Silence is a powerful tool.
A line in “Neither Wolf nor Dog” goes like this: “Be silent until they get nervous, then they will start talking. They will keep talking, and if you stay silent, they will say too much. Then you will be able to see into their hearts and know what they really mean.”
This idea permeates throughout the film. Men are judged based off of what is both said and left unsaid.
“Neither Wolf nor Dog,” adapted from a book by the same name, follows the adventures of a writer named Kent Nerburn, who is renowned for a compilation of stories from a group of Native American children.
In light of this publication, a Lakota elder named Dan contacts Nerburn and enlists him to arrange what he has learned over his many years living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The story follows Nerburn, Dan, and Dan’s good friend, Delvin, as they travel throughout the land and learn to understand each other’s cultures.
The film centers around several important themes. First, it stresses hearing other people’s stories before making assumptions about their words and actions. Additionally, it depicts what it looks like to truly care for your neighbor as if they were family and to sincerely mean what you say. Finally, it paints, in stark contrast, the business of contemporary American culture and the relaxed culture of traditional Native Americans.
In a subtle way, color is significant in this movie. Throughout the film, the colors of the movie emphasize the outdoors. There are no bright colors.
However, the film is filled with earthy, dusty, brown tones. In my mind, this emphasizes the value of nature, of Mother Earth in Native American culture.
Unlike many of its contemporaries, this film’s plot seems to unravel slowly. A lot of time is spent with the characters pondering and traveling at an unhurried pace.
While some viewers may struggle to enjoy this slower paced movie, I think the slow plot emphasizes a significant theme in this movie: the importance of living in the present.
In addition to a slower plot, this movie also contains a lack of music. In the dialogue and in the music (or lack thereof), the idea of silence is hammered into the viewers minds. In fact, to emphasize this idea, there is little music throughout the film.
A majority of what fills the audience’s ears is the song of wild grasshoppers, wind and pelting rain. Soft music is only played in moments of transition where a piano gently paints a melody or drums beat out a purposeful rhythm.
This story depicts the process of setting aside preconceived notions and learning how to understand another culture. At the beginning of the film, Nerburn makes many assumptions about why his newfound Native American friends speak and act in the way they do.
However, as the story progresses, he soon realizes how foolish his assumptions are because he knows little about this people’s history, culture and traditions. In turn, he learns to have an open mind and to strive to learn about what is new to him.
Ultimately, “Neither Wolf nor Dog” challenges all viewers to analyze their own beliefs and prejudices and to seek to understand the beauty and complexities of other cultures. It challenges viewers to view the world through a well-rounded lens and to have a curious approach.
Finally, it challenges the audience to embrace silence and to understand the weight of words. As it’s said, with silence, “then you will be able to see into their hearts and know what they really mean.”
4 out of 5 stars.