Dances With Wolves, directed by Kevin Costner, and The Searchers, directed by John Ford, looks into the fabric of this country's past. The media has created a false image of the relationship between Native Americans and White men to suppress the cruel and unfortunate reality. Both directors wanted to contradict these stereotypes, but due to the time period the films were created, only one film was successful. Unlike The Searchers, Dancing With Wolves presents a truly realistic representation of Native Americans.
Both Dances With Wolves and The Searchers protagonists, Dunbar and Ethan, embark on a journey and evolve in different ways. The purpose of Dunbar’s journey is to find who he is. For Ethan, it is to rescue his nieces who he feels had been kidnapped and turned into something abnormal and inhuman by Native “savages." Unlike Ethan, Dunbar is always self-reflective; his engagement with the Natives does not involve some false epiphany, as is commonly the case in movies in which a white man realizes the worth of other cultures. Along Dunbar’s journey, he transforms spiritually. The Searchers anti-hero, Ethan, mixes his anger, guilt, and bigoted views together to fuel his desire to be a savior. Ethan’s character is redeemed, at the end, but does not change completely. Yet, Ethan is so twisted leading to that point that one could easily argue whether it’s right to root for him in the first place.
Both Dances With Wolves and The Searchers share the theme between good versus bad. In Costner’s film, he emphasizes the idea that there is no right or wrong side, only right or wrong actions. The heroes in this film are the Natives, who save Dunbar from the Whites. Unlike Costner, Ford represents Native Americans as savages. The Searchers uses the immoral savages to reinforce mainstream Western films sense of its identity as good and right. In this depiction, the Native Americans lure the men away from their homes, savagely kill their families, and commit wrong. It is the white men who have to painstakingly hunt down the Indians to reinstate justice, righting the wrongs that have been done. Native Americans are depicted as a demonizing form of "the other," a force to which fear and repression can be the only responses. Costner's work almost inverts this.
Both films critique White racism and violence. Dunbar is guilty of the Whites and realizes that they are involved in a system where the Native culture, habitats, and populations are being destroyed. To purge his overwhelming sense of guilt, he switches sides and fights against his old comrades. White society is the demon while the Native Americans are apotheosized. In The Searchers, Ford presented Ethan not as the hero but almost as a subtle villain, a racist that embarks on a fixated and zealous mission that is...