Dances with Wolves

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A film made in 1990 set in the 1860s, directed by and starring Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves is about a United States Army lieutenant who gets positioned in a fort on the expanding western frontier. Due to unfortunate circumstances, the lieutenant becomes the only person occupying the fort and befriends a wild wolf while waiting for replacements to come. After some brief hostilities, he also comes into good terms with a neighboring Sioux Tribe who nickname him "Dances With Wolves" for his relationship with the wolf that hangs around the fort, whom he names "Two Socks".

Since this movie is a classic it shouldn't be too hard to find a longer description that spoils the whole story. If seven Academy Awards don't tell you, it's worth a view. And one testament to the movie's excellent balance of fiction and cultural accuracy is the fact that Kevin Costner has been adopted as an honorary member in the Sioux Nation.

Dances with Wolves was added to the National Film Registry in 2007.

Tropes used in Dances with Wolves include:
  • Exclusively Evil: The Pawnee, who attack both the Sioux and Stands With A Fist's family.
  • The American Civil War: Shown in the beginning of the film, shown to be authentically as cruel and barbaric as it actually was.
    • And surprisingly more balanced than most modern depictions of the war. The sides are almost indistinguishable in both looks and behavior. Aside from the uniforms, you can hardly tell it.
  • Anachronism Stew: Averted, though a stylistic version shows up a few times. Though Dunbar's clothes are all period, the way he wears them is sometimes more modern than might be expected of the time period (especially when he goes to meet Stands With a Fist at the river, and his outfit just sort of looks like Kevin Costner is visiting the stockyards).
  • Awesome McCoolname: Dances With Wolves, Stands With A Fist, Ten Bears.
  • Badass Native: Wind In His Hair.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Dances With Wolves is saved by the Sioux, but feels that he has to go off Stands With A Fist to live on their own away from the tribe.
    • The Sioux have already gone when the military's Pawnee scouts find their winter camp, but we are then told that 13 years later, the last of the Sioux were forced surrender to the United States Government.
  • Blood Brothers: "I am Wind In His Hair! Can't you see that I am your friend?"
  • Braids, Beads, and Buckskins: Justified Trope.
  • Cool, Clear Water: Averted at the last second, as John notices a lake he about to take water from is surrounded/filled with animal corpses.
  • Cool Old Guy: Ten Bears
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Major Fambrough, whom John Dunbar gets reassigned to, addresses those around him in medieval terms and soils himself in front of John while declaring that no one can do anything about it and then shoots himself in the head as John is leaving.
  • Dangerous Deserter: John is treated as one when the Army re-establishes itself at Soldier Fort/ Fort Sedgwick.
  • Did Not Do the Research: Those complaining of this film being a Mighty Whitey. The films is not about Dunbar saving the Sioux, or being a better one of them than they are. If anything, Dunbar comes to believe that the Sioux way of living is at least as good as his previous life, if not better.
  • Dramatic Irony: John goes back to the fort to retrieve his journal, fearing it would have been found and would have lead someone to the Sioux, and all the death and hardship that follows is because of this decision. The audience sees, but John doesn't, that his journal was found by a thieving, illiterate Jerkass who would have destroyed it himself eventually anyway... wiping his ass with it.
  • Dress Hits Floor/Toplessness From the Back: Mary McDonnell shows off a damn good combo trope.
  • Driven to Suicide: John in the beginning, after learning he's going to have his foot amputated. The Confederates manage to miss him even though he charges right past them.
  • Dub Text: The censors removed a scene where Dances with Wolves and Wind in his Hair debate the size of a buffalo, because they thought it was referring to the former's penis. This probably also adds to the Ho Yay. Also, the Lakotah language coach was a woman, and nobody seemed to have realized that there are male and female Lakotah pronunciations and styles—meaning it's a trap! The overall effect for Lakotah-speaking audiences was a bunch of Klingon warriors talking like a ladies' Saturday afternoon tea social.
    • Actually, the decision to include only one gender in the language was intentional, to reduce the complexity of what the actors needed to learn/memorize for the roles.
  • Either World Domination or Something About Bananas: Happens a couple of times as John attempts to learn the Sioux language.
  • Fan Disservice: Kicking Bird and his wife having sex in front of Dunbar.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The Sioux don't get to keep their freedom and lifestyle.
  • Field Promotion: John receives one after his suicidal charge/heroism.
  • Going Native: John Dunbar, who later becomes Dances With Wolves of the Lakota Sioux.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: Kevin Costner falls in love with Laura Roslin.
    • Working both ways, of course; a popular Fan Nickname for McDonnell's character in Battlestar Galactica was "Stands-with-an-Airlock".
    • Don't forget Sagat!
  • Ho Yay: Wind In His Hair calls Dunbar his kola, which in Lakota includes sleeping in the same blanket when part of a hunting party and in some cases even sharing wives. This also qualifies as Foe Yay since they didn't like each other at first.
  • Indian Maiden: Played with because Stands With A Fist is a white woman who was taken by the Pawnee as a small child and has lived with the Indians (first the Pawnee, then the Lakota) most of her life.
  • Injun Country: Featuring the Sioux and Pawnee tribes, deconstructs a good number of Cowboys and Indians and other Western Indian tropes while pursuing realism.
  • Jerkass: Corporal Spivey lies about finding John's/Daces With Wolves' journal, and then later uses it to help out at the latreen.
  • Kick the Dog: The Pawnee shoot dogs with arrows, and the Union soldiers shoot wolves with rifles.
    • And it's completely ignored that the magical Sioux ate dogs in religious festivals.
  • Mighty Whitey: Debatable if not nearly as overt as most other examples.
  • Name That Unfolds Like Lotus Blossom: All the Native Americans (except Otter), which is a pretty accurate representation of Real Life naming conventions.
  • Noble Savage: All of the Sioux are shown in this light; none of the Pawnee are.
    • Though arguably they show a darker side as well. There's a scene (in the extended version at least) where the Sioux have just killed a group of white men who were wastefully hunting buffalo for only their skins. We're left to wonder whether the white men really deserved to die for what they had done, and Dunbar is disturbed to see severed white hands and the Sioux celebrating with abandon.
    • Some of the Pawnee are also shown to be, at the least, not quite as battle-crazed as their leader, with one of them grumbling to the other "He will not stop until we're all dead." This hints that the Pawnee are not somehow just inherently more violent and evil than the Sioux, but more that they feel beholden to follow their Blood Knight leader.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Major Fambrough, the crazy (possibly from either Syphilis or Lead Poisoning) military officer that gives Dunbar his orders, and thinks that it's the time of King Arthur.
  • One Sided Battle: After John's seeming heroics (actually attempted suicide), the Union troops attack and rout the Confederates.
    • Also apparent when the Sioux defeat the Pawnee, using the guns John had.
  • Oscar Bait
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: A realistic and in-universe case. Dunbar and the Sioux are neighbors, friends, eventually family. It's not exactly surprising that he chooses to side with them against anyone that wants to harm them, as opposed to sitting back and pondering the wider moral issues as the audience has the benefit of doing.
  • Raised by Natives: Stands With A Fist.
  • Reunion Kiss: More like Reunion Epic Makeout. She literally tackles him to the ground.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: John after he's told he'll need to have his leg amputated.
  • Shirtless Scene: Pretty much all the men, but Costner gets naked.
  • Shoot the Dog: A particularly heartbreaking, example.
  • Suicide By enemy Army: John enlists the aid of the enemy army to help him deal with his life situation. They suceed, but not in the way he imagined they would.
  • Stock Sound Effects: I've heard Timmons' fart somewhere before.
  • That Man Is Dead: (In Lakota language) "My name is Dances With Wolves, and I have nothing to say to you."
  • Those Two Guys: Technically, the boys are those three guys, but still...