A military explorer meets and befriends a Goldi man in Russia’s unmapped forests. A deep and abiding bond evolves between the two men, one civilized in the usual sense, the other at home in the glacial Siberian woods.
Whatever the reason, the finished film differs from the original script. In the former, Dersu dies through the machinations of progress, not—as in the latter—through the existential fact of having been born at all, and being thus doomed to death.
— Donald Richie (Criterion)