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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Dances With Bears

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Plot Overview

“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer”— D.H. Lawrence.

The opening shot pans in to a pioneer farmer sawing to beat the band, his wife Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) inside their cabin giving grammar lessons to their three daughters. Marauding Indians appear, the result for the lone survivor being: “I will bury my family.” Mrs. Quaid will come to ask her soon-to-arrive escort from the fort, US Calvary Captain Joe Blocker (Christian Bale), “You believe in the Lord, Joseph?” Blocker replies, “Yes. I do. But he's been blind to what's been going on here for a long time.”

This is New Mexico 1892. A brief history lesson is in order, care of T. Harry Williams et al. “The last west was not, as has so often been claimed, a refuge for the urban poor or a safety valve for the proletarian unrest. The men who settled it were farmers, and they came from farms in the Middle West, the East, or Europe. In the booming eighties, with land values rising, credit was easy, and the farmers confidently expected to retire their obligations. With the advent of the arid and depression years of the nineties, the prospect changed with grim suddenness” (160). The state of the Quaids' home indicates that they arrived on the cusp of optimism. Then suddenly there came a drought, and with the increase of world­wide crop production, prices plummeted. Now add to all that, the virtual end of the Indian wars still left some marauding Comanches … who just happened to raid this farm (for their horses.) One might be left with the impression that God doesn't like the Quaids or doesn't care. To her credit Mrs. Quaid replies, “Yes, but I believe. If I did not have faith, what would I have?”

If you do the math, you'll find 1892 is an election year. The president is up for reelection. What obstacles has he got to over­come? Let's take another history lesson from the previous election, courtesy of Paul S. Boyer et al: (697)

The Election of 1888

In one of the campaign's “dirty tricks,” a California Republican leader, pretending to be a British-born naturalized citizen named Charles Murchison, wrote to the British ambassador to ask how he should vote. The ambassador fell into the trap and advised “Murchison” to vote for Cleveland. Capitalizing on the anti-British feeling then prevalent in the United States, the Republicans gleefully publicized the “Murchison letter” as a shocking attempt by a foreign power to meddle in an American election.

Despite such Republican chicanery, Cleveland received almost one hundred thousand more votes than Harrison. But Harrison carried the key states of Indiana and New York and thus won the electoral college.

Now he's up for election again in 1892, so what does he do? All those Indians who have been woefully mistreated up until now, their welfare has become a “cause célèbre.” The commander of Ft. Winslow, Colo. explains his wife's concerns, that she “has become a champion of the oppressed.” The president has issued orders for captive Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family to be relocated to his native Valley of the Bears, Montana. Chosen as escort on account of his knowing the language and the land is Capt. Joe Blocker who has no love for the savages he's fought so long against (“I hate him. I hate his kind”), but orders are orders (“If you sign up to be a soldier, it's your job.”) He's contemplating retirement with his military pension after this one last duty. His veteran team members Corp. Henry Woodsen (Jonathan Majors) and a Sergeant (Rory Cochrane) don't love Indians either. The people they encounter on the way don't. But back in Washington they love them, so what can one do?

This would be bad enough, playing escort to a chief who viciously slaughtered his army friends, but he has volunteered to help escort a prisoner Sgt. Charles Wills (Ben Foster) to Pierce to likely be hanged for his war crimes. And en route the guy rubs it in, that he didn't do anything worse than the rest of them did. “Ain't right, judging me, none of you. I fought along­side you. We're all guilty of some­thing. I'm just asking for mercy.” With this pain in the rear Capt. Blocker has to listen to, it's as if God doesn't like him either.


If there's some kind of lesson given from the Bible, it's likely from the very pragmatic Proverbs that Capt. Blocker recites during his devotions. He goes through them in reverse order for some reason, but I'll quote them going forward. The first has to do with the effects of drinking, Prov. 23:29-32. Blocker picks up at, (Prov. 23:33-35) “Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, …; they have beaten me, shalt thou say, and I felt it not.” In the course of the military trek, three fur trappers “behold strange women;” their women. The rain gets so heavy it's almost like being swamped by the sea. And one man says he can't feel a thing—no explanation is given. Their trip has all the trappings of drunken binge.

(Prov. 24:1-2) “Be not thou envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them.” It's mighty bad company that Joe is forced to keep.

The next proverb has to do with the wisdom through which a house is built (Prov. 24:3-4), and that “by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.” Sounds like a verse to help Joe contemplate the domestic life he's heading for after this assignment, to be using his pension check to stock the house.

Now we get to verses that occur in sequence and play out in the film but are not recited by Joe. He may well have read them, in back­ward order, but the scene opens right after he'd gone through them. (Prov. 24:5-6) “A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength. For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counsellors there is safety.” Capt. Blocker has a little pow wow with Chief Yellow Hawk (his prisoner) en route about the necessity of banding together for protection against the marauders.

(Prov. 24:7) “Wisdom is too high for a fool: he openeth not his mouth in the gate.” The gate of the city was the place in ancient Israel where all business was conducted. Here in open territory it's done long distance with papers, but the Silases who claim to own the land the “president's orders” has assigned to the Indians can't read, so they dismiss out of hand “writing on a piece of paper.”

There's also a verse from the Psalms that fits right in with this plot: (Psalm 127:1) “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” The farmer in the opening shot was laboring in vain sawing wood; his house was not to be further constructed. Like­wise, the West Point grad guarding Wills chained to a tree lets him escape. It's as if God isn't interested in their endeavors. As Mrs. Quaid puts it, “We'll never get used to the Lord's rough ways, Joseph.” The rest of the Psalm 127:3-5 seems to be an encouragement to a domestic life with wife and children. While Joe is contemplating his life in retirement, he might want to consider that he could do a whole lot worse than with the widow Quaid.

Production Values

This Western, “” was directed by Scott Foster who also wrote its screen­play based on a manuscript by Donald E. Stewart of the U.S. east coast (Virginia.) Actors included Christian Bale, Wes Studi and Rosamund Pike who performed splendidly. Christian Bale was power­fully human; Rosamund Pike was moving in her face of loss. She exhibited grief better than one would expect even from the most accomplished actress. Hers was an out­standing performance. Wes Studi, dependable for an ailing Chief, was superb, understated and implicitly powerful.

MPAA rated it R for strong violence, and language. It's 134 minutes long with lots of action and time to let the tension build. Cinema­tographer Masanobu Takayanagi works in some amazing vistas of wild land­scapes and stark rock formations. He achieves a balance between the majestic beauty of the land and the intimacy of the assignment. The camera takes in separate groups at the start of their expedition but finishes with a cohesive line of every­body remaining.

Review Conclusion w/ Consumer Recommendation

This one is more contemplative than your usual Western. It's one of aftermaths and new beginnings, and is a reflection on the American character. God is acknowledged for his seeming absence. The Great White Father in Washington having been historically elected on a platform opposed to foreign interference with American elections seems generous now at last to let a defeated Indian die in his Valley of the Bears. Some­times a president dances with bears.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Well done action flick. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: Good Date Movie. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall product rating: Four and a half stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture is taken from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software, print.

Boyer, Paul S., et al. The Enduring Vision A History of the American People. Vol. 2. Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath & Co., 1993. Print.

Williams, T. Harry, Richard N. Current, and Frank Freidel. A History of the United States [since 1865]. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960. Print.