Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Addendum to recasting--Part III (1990): "Dances with Wolves"

Way back in 2012, I bemoaned in my inaugural post of the Shoulda Coulda Wouldas tag how much I wished I could've seen Meryl tackle the role of Stands with a Fist from Dances with Wolves. I ended up including this film in my Reimagined history of her career. As I've mentioned in earlier posts in this recasting project, I've realized that the Shoulda Coulda Wouldas section has turned out to be the well from which I sort of designate roles into my two 'alternative' careers I like to imagine Streep having. I think Dances with Wolves ultimately fits better into my recasting project. 

Like the two previous choices from this recasting addendum, Dances with Wolves holds a prominent place in my memory as one of the films that helped shaped my interest in cinema. It's for this reason that I didn't wait for my supporting role recasting project to include this pic. I'm not sure if I saw it for the first time today if I would regard the film as highly as I do. But it's next to impossible to accurately gauge the answer to such a question when I've held such nostalgic fondness for this film over the years.

I first saw the movie shortly after it was released to home video. I would've been around eleven or twelve at the time. It's interesting how depending on what's going on in our lives at any given point, certain experiences can have memorable impact. We may not notice or realize it at the time, but looking back, what I saw on the screen in this movie was a community I'd learned about and thought about, but never really seen depicted in such a vivid way. I'd spent a lot of time in the north woods area of Minnesota growing up, where Native American influence and culture was obvious even to my young eyes. I can remember visiting a place called Deep Portage, a wilderness learning center, and was fascinated by the stories and replicas of the indigenous peoples' way of life. The focus was more on the Ojibwe people, not the Sioux (I say "Sioux," as that it what they call themselves in the film--I suspect Lakota is a more accurate term, while Sioux includes more than one group of people and language), but regardless, when I saw Dances with Wolves, it was like my curiosity had been brought to life in the form of a sweeping epic. 

The actual role of Stands with a Fist is of course a fascinating one. Not that the idea of a white child taken in and raised by Native Americans was a brand new idea. But the position she finds herself in, having to try to translate for her tribe and adoptive father, all while still in mourning from the passing of her own husband, offers a juicy start to the character's arc.

So many emotions to convey in just this one scene. Fear, frustration, sadness, surprise. Maybe a glint of attraction. Mary McDonnell does a tremendous job here. I remember seeing an interview with director/star Kevin Costner about the movie, where he states that he specifically wanted an actress for the role who "had lines on her face." Meryl is only three years older than McDonnell, and easily could've portrayed this character form an age standpoint. Then of course there's the fun aspect of language she would've gotten to tackle. Not only having to sound like you speak fluent Lakota, but also figuring out what the character would sound like in English! She hadn't spoken it since she was a child, and I think it's so fascinating to imagine how much we would lose if we didn't use it. When we started to try to recall words, which parts would come back to us? Certainly not always automatically the first syllables. I think Meryl would've dug deep into the nature of how all that would begin to resurface. 

I've read some items over the years that this film is just another white savior movie. It think that's a bit of a copout. If anything, I think it's the Native Americans who save the white guy. I can remember even as child never once considering that the white folks' way of life in this film was in any way superior to that of the Sioux people. I'm also not naive to the fact that the Sioux are almost depicted as a utopian society in this movie, which certainly is not historically factual. But they're probably closer to it than any of the cities in the United States during and around the time of The Civil War. 

Regardless of any of the historical considerations, Dances with Wolves is and will remain a special movie for me. With its broad, beautiful landscape, convincing performances, and endlessly engaging musical score, I know I'll continue to revisit it in the future. 

No comments:

Post a Comment