Avatar and Dances with Wolves have come to be two of the most successful movies produced, Avatar made billions and Dances with Wolves has come to be a household name in America today. While both films are set in worlds hundreds of years apart, they share a great amount of similarities in underlying meanings and their overall plots. Although both films emphasize on completely different indigenous groups, both movies helped to shed a light on primitive people throughout the world, who may not live the same lifestyle as us, but are no less human than us. Let's take a closer look into the film's major themes, and the portrayal of outsiders and native people.
Both films are initially built on the foundations of a militaristic and imperialistic ideology. We have a battle-hardened soldier who just nearly got himself killed riding into the front lines of a firefight and a wheelchair bound paraplegic veteran. It’s evident as both films progress that a major developing theme that both Cameron and Costner want to get across is that these films are anti-violence, and showcase things that humans should not participate in or stand for.
It’s imperative to understand that people are generally the same around the world. We all feel things, have our principals, and believe in specific things. While our ethics may not align, we’re all apart of the human race. Watching these movies with this thinking allows us to decipher the political code in which they were written. In both films we have the military, which can be seen as real-life corporations, making attempts to infiltrate these lavish worlds where mother nature and the natives flourish. They will take any means necessary to secure this land for themselves.
The major theme here is exposing the imperialism of stronger countries and demonstrates the dehumanization of people. Stating their different from us is simply one’s perspective, but truly we’re all the same. In Avatar the military wants the land so they can mine precious minerals, in Dances with Wolves, the military and rival tribes simply want to colonize the land for leverage. It’s a theme that displays the utter greed that still exists in society today.
As I stated previously, both these films have a similar underlying message in which they want to show people that they should not stand for corporate greed, racism, or deforestation. We have two protagonists that eventually desert their companions because they didn’t find their heart to be in the cause. The embodiment of this message resonated with audiences and helped individuals to empathize with the indigenous groups.
Taking a look at the portrayal of primitive groups in these films, it’s clear they’re both very much in touch with nature, culture, and family. They practiced the same principles we do today. When I look back at classic westerns, I see they commonly followed a familiar formula. We are told a story from a white man’s point of view, that usually at some point shows turmoil with rival Indian tribes. In these films there typically wasn’t the perspective of the Native-American groups, it was generally completely absent. If we were to rewatch some of those films with the extensive understanding we have for Native-Americans today we probably would not of had the same feelings towards them. When we watch either of these movies, it’s initially hard to be empathetic for foreign beings we don’t relate to, however as both films progress and the characters become more developed we begin feeling emotions for them, and can see ourselves in them as well. Avatar and Dances with Wolves gave a refreshing outlook on native groups and what they stood for, it made them more relatable to us.
Humans in general enjoy finding things in which they relate to. In both these films it was necessary to have that outside character, a normal person in which we’re able to closely identify with. I don’t feel either of these films were attempting to make remarks that a white man was needed for these groups to be saved, but rather to ease the audience into connecting with the Na’vi and the Lakota tribes. In the beginning both native groups are very wary of these two outsiders, in Avatar the Na’vi see this marine as feebleminded while the Lakota tribe depict John Dunbar as a soldier who wants the Indian’s land. This thinking doesn’t stray too far from reality, we have social groups we generally gravitate towards, at the same time we’re cautious of unfamiliar people if given a similar context the films have. As previously stated, we’re able to relate with the outside characters. By the end of the films, we see that the portrayal of outsiders is overall positive, it’s two men that grow to be very fond of alternative thinking and become open to differences, it’s how many of us strive to be; openminded.
Overall both these films are riddled with underlying sociopolitical meanings and truly there are too many themes to decipher. However, the two cinema giants retell a beautiful narrative of becoming an accepting person, and give a unique, fresh outlook on primitive groups as well. We can see from Avatar in particular the character develops from an overzealous marine to a compassionate, empathetic individual. Both characters and native groups have characteristics we would all like to possess. Ultimately, these films tell us to not stand alongside anything we don’t feel is right, to preserve the beauty of mother nature, and to be our own independent entities.