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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that certain scenes in this film stretch the boundaries of a PG-13 rating and are extremely violent. Both Native Americans and white settlers are brutally killed, many times in close-up, with rifles, knives, arrows, hatchets, and in hand-to-hand combat. Blood flows in many scenes. Animals, including some who have been seen throughout as loyal companions to the humans, are viciously killed. At the same time, the picture painted of Native-Americans as a peace-loving, desperate to survive, family-oriented people broke much new ground in 1990 when this movie was made. There is some mild profanity in early scenes; some partial nudity and passionate kissing and embracing; and Native-Americans sharing a pipe is shown as an ongoing tribal custom.
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What's the story?
Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) is a soldier in the American Civil War whose suicide attempt ends up bringing about a battle victory for his side. Given his choice of posts as a reward, he picks the frontier where an insane major sends him miles away to an abandoned, run-down fort. Months go by with no contact from the army. Dunbar's solitude, curiosity, and sense of duty lead him to make friends with some Sioux Indians who come to him seeking answers about the intentions of the white men in their country. Dunbar eventually gives up waiting for the U.S. Army to send supplies and more men. Through more than three hours of movie, he falls in love, befriends a wolf, and the Sioux come to trust him and treat him as one of their own, eventually fully integrating him with the tribe.
Is it any good?
This very emotional and intense epic has many light-hearted moments, but it's not kid-friendly. It is fraught with violence, and there are heavy themes such as suicide (three characters attempt to take their own lives; one succeeds). However, the characters in DANCES WITH WOLVES will stay with you, as will the decisions they make and the love (and hatred) they show.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the plight of the Native Americans and how their situation compares with other situations in the world right now. Was it okay to colonize land that the Native Americans had taken care of for so long? Was there a compromise that would have worked? What would the U.S. be like now if settlers and Native Americans had lived and learned from each other instead of one eradicating the other?
Why is there so much violence in this movie? Would the movie make the same impact without the graphic illustration of violence?
- In theaters: November 17, 1990
- On DVD or streaming: January 11, 2011
- Cast: Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell
- Director: Kevin Costner
- Studio: MGM/UA
- Genre: Western
- Character strengths: Compassion, Empathy, Integrity
- Run time: 181 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violence, nudity, sexual situations, language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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