They meet at first in the middle of the prairie, holding themselves formally and a little awkwardly, the cavalry officer and Sioux Indians. There should be instant mistrust between them, but they take each other’s measure and keep an open mind. A civilized man is a person whose curiosity outweighs his prejudices, and these are curious men (…) In real life, such contacts hardly ever took place. The dominant American culture was nearsighted, incurious and racist, and saw the Indians as a race of ignorant, thieving savages, fit to be shot on sight. Such attitudes survived until so recently in our society — just look at the B Westerns of the 1940s — that we can only imagine how much worse they were 100 years ago. In a sense, Dances With Wolves is a sentimental fantasy, a « what if » movie that imagines a world in which whites were genuinely interested in learning about a Native American culture that lived more closely in harmony with the natural world than any other before or since. But our knowledge of how things turned out — of how the Indians were driven from their lands by genocide and theft — casts a sad shadow over everything. The movie is a simple story, magnificently told (…) Dances With Wolves has the kind of vision and ambition that is rare in movies today. It is not a formula movie, but a thoughtful, carefully observed story. It is a Western at a time when the Western is said to be dead. It asks for our imagination and sympathy. It takes its time, three hours, to unfold (…) This movie moves so confidently and looks so good it seems incredible that it’s a directorial debut. — Roger Ebert, 1990.

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