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The Mission is a 1986 British film about the experiences of a Jesuit missionary in 18th century South America. The film was written by Robert Bolt and directed by Roland Joffé. It stars Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Ray McAnally, Aidan Quinn, Cherie Lunghi and Liam Neeson. It won the Palme d'Or and the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. In April 2007, it was elected number one on the Church Times Top 50 Religious Films list. The music, scored by Italianmarker composer Ennio Morricone, was listed at #23 on AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores.

Plot Summary

The film is set in the 1750s and involves the Jesuit Reductions, a programme by which the European Catholic Church sought to Christianize and "civilize" the indigenous native populations of South America. It tells the story of a Spanish Jesuit priest, Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons), who enters the South American jungle to build a mission and convert a community of Guaraní Indians to Christianity, and of the eventual destruction of the missions by the secular Spanish and Portuguese colonial governments.

Nearly all of the film is a flashback shown while Papal emissary Cardinal Altamirano (Ray McAnally) is dictating a letter to the Pope detailing what happened. One of the first scenes is the martyrdom of a Jesuit missionary. The unnamed missionary is lashed to a cross by the Guaraní Indians who live above the spectacular Iguazu Fallsmarker, and the cross is placed into the river and sent over the falls. His martyrdom inspires the gentle Father Gabriel to scale the hazardous falls and reach out to the tribe. Entering the jungle territory of the Guaraní, Father Gabriel sits and begins to play his oboe. Drawn to the sound, the Guaraní warriors prepare to kill him, but captivated by the beauty of the music they allow him to live and he gently and gradually wins their trust.

Meanwhile, a mercenary and slaver, Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert De Niro), makes his living kidnapping Guaraní and other indigenous people and selling them to the nearby plantations. Nonetheless, he is shown to have a human side, caring deeply both for his brother Felipe (Aidan Quinn) and fiancee Carlotta (Cherie Lunghi). However, when Carlotta reveals to him that she has fallen in love with Felipe, and Mendoza subsequently finds them in bed together, his anger at being rejected results in him stabbing Felipe to death in a duel. Acquitted of the murder, as it resulted from a legal duel, Mendoza spirals into extreme guilt and depression and withdraws from all society. Father Gabriel, who has temporarily returned from beyond the falls and learned of Mendoza's situation, visits and confronts him, challenging Mendoza to have the courage to undertake a suitable penance.

Mendoza is next seen accompanying the Jesuits on their return journey above the falls pulling behind him a large net filled with his armor and weapons of war. He doggedly pulls the burden through the forest and mud and as the party scales the Iguazu Fallsmarker. Still despondent, Mendoza refuses help and proceeds until he collapses. At one point one of the Jesuit priests Fielding (Liam Neeson), who is Father Gabriel's colleague, cuts away the bundle, releasing Mendoza of his penance. Mendoza recovers the bundle, re-ties it, and resumes the grueling journey. Later the priest discusses with Father Gabriel that he and the other brothers believe Mendoza has suffered enough and should be relieved of the penance. Father Gabriel replies that it is only for God and Mendoza to decide when he has done enough. Once the party reaches the tribe's camp, the tribe is alarmed that Mendoza has accompanied the priests. A member of the tribe takes a long knife and appears to be prepared to slit Mendoza's throat. Instead, he cuts the large ropes to which Mendoza's burden is tied and pushes the armor and weapons over a cliff into the river below. Finally symbolically relieved of his violent past, and the recipient of the tribe's forgiveness, Mendoza breaks down into weeping and eventual laughter.

Father Gabriel's mission is depicted as a place of sanctuary and education for the Guaraní. Father Gabriel and his priests teach the Indians to carve and play flutes and violins and sing beautifully. They learn skills in reading, writing, and mathematics. Moved by the acceptance he experiences among the Guaraní, Mendoza asks Father Gabriel how he might help. Father Gabriel gives Mendoza a Bible and asks him to read it. The film contains a voice-over of Mendoza reading 1 Corinthians 13 as he interacts with the Guaraní, particularly the children, and observes their gentle, natural life. We also see Mendoza's refusal to engage in further acts of violence when he declines the honour of killing a peccary caught by the Guaraní. Mendoza goes on to take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and becomes a Jesuit under Father Gabriel.

Shifting political views in Spainmarker and Portugalmarker have resulted in the two countries signing a treaty in which Spain will surrender land to Portugal for conquest and civilization by the Portuguesemarker colonials, who seek to enslave the Guaraní and other tribes. Because the Jesuit missions, traditionally a place of sanctuary, might impede this new plan, Papal Emissary, Altamirano, is sent to survey the missions and decide which, if any, should be allowed to remain.

Under pressure from both the plantation owners and the politicians of Portugal, Altamirano is forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. If he rules in favor of the colonists, the indigenous peoples will become enslaved. If he rules in favour of the missions, the entire Jesuit Order may be outlawed by the Portuguese and the Church would be weakened in Europe. Altamirano visits the missions and is amazed at the industry and success he finds at each. As he dictates his report he states "Your Holiness, a surgeon to save the body must often hack off a limb. But in truth nothing could prepare me for the beauty and the power of the limb that I had come here to sever." At Father Gabriel's mission of San Carlos he tries in vain to explain the reasons behind closing the Mission. He instructs the Guaraní that they must leave the Mission. The Guaraní, now viewing the Mission as their home, refuse and question how he can claim to speak for God. Frustrated, Altamirano passes down an official policy decision that Father Gabriel's mission must be closed. Father Gabriel and Mendoza state their intention to maintain the Mission should colonials attack it. The plantation owners and colonists at the foot of the falls begin to plan their military incursion to clear the Mission.

Father Gabriel and Mendoza are faced with the difficult choice of the proper response to the impending military attack. Father Gabriel, who believes that God is love, and violence is a direct crime against that love, argues they should trust God and not respond with violence. Mendoza, however, decides to leave the brotherhood and break his vows in order to militarily defend the Mission. Against Father Gabriel's wishes, he teaches the natives the art of war and once more takes up his sword, retrieved from the water by a Gauraní boy.

When the colonists stage an attack, the Mission is well defended by Mendoza and the Guaraní, but their defences are no match for the colonists'. As the colonial soldiers enter the mission village they are slowed at first by the haunting songs of Father Gabriel and the Guaraní women and children, who march toward the troops unarmed, singing and holding a cross and monstrance with the Blessed Host. In spite of this spectacle, the soldiers' commander orders them to attack, and they do. All the priests and most of the adult Guaraní are massacred. Women and children are gunned down as well. Only a handful of people escape into the jungle.

In a final exchange between Altamirano and a Portuguese official, the official laments that what happened was unfortunate but inevitable because "thus is the world in which we live." To which Altamirano replies, "No, thus have we made the world. Thus have I made it." Days later, a canoe full of young children return to the scene of the Mission massacre, and collect a few salvaged belongings, including a broken violin, which one of the children plays. They set off up the river in a canoe, deeper into the jungle, leaving behind the scorched church. A final title declares that Jesuits and others continue to fight for the rights of indigenous people. Finally the text of John 1:5 is displayed: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."



Soundtrack

The Mission soundtrack was written by Ennio Morricone. Beginning with a liturgical piece (On Earth as It Is In Heaven) which becomes the "Spanishmarker" theme, it moves quickly to the "Guaraní" theme, which is written in a heavily native style and uses several indigenous instruments. Later, Morricone defines the "Mission" theme as a duet between the "Spanish" and "Guaraní" themes. Other themes throughout the movie include the "Penance", "Conquest", and "Ave Maria Guaraní" themes. In the latter, a huge choir of indigenous people sing a haunting rendition of "Ave Maria" in their native language.

An excerpt from the soundtrack is used during the final episode of the American TV series The Wonder Years.

Cast



Historical Basis

The Mission is based on events surrounding the Treaty of Madrid in 1750, in which Spain ceded part of Jesuit Paraguay to Portugal. The film's narrator, "Altamirano", speaking in hindsight in 1758, corresponds to the actual Andalusianmarker Jesuit Father Luis Altamirano, who was sent by Jesuit Superior General Ignacio Visconti to Paraguay in 1752 to transfer territory from Spain to Portugal. He oversaw the transfer of seven missions south and east of the Río Uruguay, that had been settled by Guaranis and Jesuits in the 1600s. As compensation, Spain promised each mission 4,000 pesos, or fewer than 1 peso for each of the circa 30,000 Guaranis of the seven missions, while the cultivated lands, livestock, and buildings were estimated to be worth 7-16 million pesos. The films climax is the Guarani War of 1754-1756, during which historical Guaranis defended their homes against Spanish-Portuguese forces implementing the Treaty of Madrid. For the film, a re-creation was made of one of the seven missions, São Miguel das Missõesmarker.

Father Gabriel's character is loosely based on the life of Paraguayan saint and Jesuit Roque González de Santa Cruz.

The waterfall setting of the film suggests the combination of these events with the story of older missions, founded between 1610-1630 on the Paranapanema River above the Guaíra Fallsmarker, from which Paulistamarker slave raids forced Guaranis and Jesuits to flee in 1631. The battle at the end of the film evokes the eight-day Battle of Mboboré in 1641, a battle fought on land as well as in boats on rivers, in which the Jesuit-organized, firearm-equipped Guarani forces stopped the Paulista raiders.

Inaccuracies

There are historical inaccuracies in the film. Cardinal Altamirano references the Marquis of Pombalmarker as the true ruler of Portugalmarker, however Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo was not created Marquis of Pombal until 1770, well after the date of the film's historical setting. Moreover, in 1750 Melo was not even Prime Minister of Portugal, and the peak of his influence and power in that country did not start until after 1755, when King Joseph I gave him great power after Lisbonmarker's Earthquake. However, already from 1750, Melo was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and the principal force behind the implementation of the land-transfer agreement and the closure of the missions. The quarrel over the missions put Melo on a collision course with the Jesuits that ultimately led to the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Portuguese Empire in 1759, and the suspension of the Order by the Pope in 1773.

At another point, Altamirano refers to some "French radicals" that it is implied share property communally, as the Indians and the Jesuits do in their Missions. He is apparently referring to Count Henri de Saint-Simon, founder of Socialism and Saint-Simonianism. However, Saint-Simon was not born until 1760, and his main theories were not developed and published until 1816. However, the reference to "French radicals" could refer to the works of Gabriel Bonnot de Mably, a French proto-communist writer from about the period 1750, or, more likely, the writer known only under his pen-name Morelly, whose proto-communist works were widely read in the 1750s.

The allegation that the mission indians would be subject to slavery in the Portuguese territories is a bit misleading. Indian slavery in Brazil (and subtle quasi-slavery arrangements) had been whittled away for over a century, thanks in no small part to the vigorous role of the Jesuit fathers in the 17th C. Enslavement was long forbidden, particularly of mission indians. Indian slavery itself was formally abolished altogether in the two northern Brazilian statesmarker (Estado do Maranhão e Piauí and the Estado do Grão-Pará e Rio Negro) in 1753 and in the remainder of Brazil (Estado do Brasil) in 1755, around or just before the time of the events depicted in the movie. Naturally, given the history of slave-raiding incursions by Portuguese colonists (bandeirantes) against the missions during the 17th C., it is understandable that the Tupi-Guarani had little reason to trust Portuguese promises that came with the transfer of authority.

Awards and Nominations

Academy Awards

BAFTA Film Awards

Cannes Film Festival
  • Palme d'Or – Roland Joffé (won)
  • Technical Grand Prize – Roland Joffé (won)


Golden Globe Awards

References

  1. http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/documents/downloads.asp?lvid=7086&id=37267
  2. James Schofield Saeger (1995) "The Mission and Historical Missions: Film and the Writing of History." The Americas, Vol. 51, No. 3, pp. 393-415.
  3. Saeger, ibid.


See also



External links




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