A haunting and beautiful film
Neither Wolf nor Dog follows Kent Nerburn (played by Christopher Sweeney), an author from Minnesota, who is commissioned to write a book about a Native American man named Dan (played by Dave Bald Eagle) about his history and heritage. Together, they travel through the heart of Lakota county in South Dakota, as Nerburn learns some difficult truths on his mission to accurately portray Dan’s story.
The film is directed by Steven Lewis Simpson, and is based on the book by the same title, written by the real Kent Nerburn.
When the film began, I was immediately struck by the realism of the visuals. The lighting and staging of the film — from the reservation, where most of the movie is set, to Kent’s home in Minnesota — are created to feel physically authentic. This realism contributes to the viewer’s ability to relate to what they are seeing and feel the truth of the story. There wasn’t any moment throughout the film where I felt carried away by suspension of disbelief. Every event was grounded in reality.
As an Aboriginal woman with very little connection to her Alberta Cree roots, I was filled with a sense of pride and a desire to jump into my own culture with both feet.
This convincing visual portrayal of the world gives way to a story that is just as skillfully crafted. Despite the absence of action, there is no absence of tension. The human connections and well-handled subject matter create an unabashedly honest portrayal of the Native American experience. It shows the difficulty that Native Americans and white Americans continue to experience in forging relationships after the horrors of the recent past. These issues allow the viewer to place themselves in the shoes of both Kent and of Dan, as well as the other characters we meet on and just beyond the reservation.
Additionally, and to the film’s credit, no character is a caricature or a scapegoat. Instead, the characters and their real-life counterparts are treated with respect, dignity, and heart. Coming away from my first viewing of Neither Wolf nor Dog, I felt incredibly connected to what I had seen. As an Aboriginal woman with very little connection to her Alberta Cree roots, I was filled with a sense of pride and a desire to jump into my own culture with both feet. The strength and resilience as well as pain and lasting damage represented in the Native American people in Neither Wolf nor Dog are like a portrait with eyes that follow me wherever I go. I find myself thinking about the film constantly. It stays in the back of my mind, whispering to me, making me yearn for a better sense of my own heritage.
The truth of this film goes even deeper than one’s desire to learn about their heritage — it speaks to people beyond those who share Aboriginal blood. Kent Nerburn himself is a white American, and with him as the viewer’s proxy, anyone with any level of experience regarding Native American history is able to connect to the events of the film and come away with some whispering questions.
This true story is expertly crafted, genuine, and compelling. If you are interested in finding a new appreciation for the Aboriginal people of the U.S. or Canada, if you’ve ever been affected by or concerned about the effects of colonialism and displacement and if you want to see a film that represents real human experience without sugar coating, Neither Wolf nor Dog is the film to see.