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The Mission

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The mission is a 1986 film directed by Roland Joffe, which takes place during the 1750’s. In a more directional way, in the movie there is a conflict between Jesuits of Spain and Portugal. The Jesuits go on to extend ministry of Jesus to America Indians and create a village like environment in the woods. The king does not agree and wont allow it because it is under his opinion that the Native Americans are animal. So, the Portuguese go and destroy the entire village of monks and priests as well as the Native Americans. The film involves Spanish Jesuit priest Father Gabriel who is in the South American jungle to build a mission and convert a Guaraní community to Christianity. The community above the dangerous Iguazu Falls has tied a priest to a cross and sent him over the falls to his death. Father Gabriel then goes and climbs a waterfall and is captivated but miraculously is let go.

Mercenary and slaver Robert De Niro who plays Rodrigo Mendoza makes his living kidnapping natives and selling them to nearby plantations, including the plantation of the Spanish Governor Don Cabeza. Mendoza finds his fiancée and his younger half-brother Felipe sleeping together. With much anger, he kills Felipe in a fight. Although Cabeza acquits him of the killing, then Mendoza falls into depression. Father Gabriel visits and challenges Mendoza to make penance. Mendoza accompanies the Jesuits on their return journey, dragging a heavy bundle containing his armor and sword. When they reached the Natives territory, there are a few tense moments when the natives recognize him, but they soon embrace a weeping Mendoza and cut away his heavy bundle.

Father Gabriel’s mission is portrayed as a place of sanctuary and education for the GuaranĂ­. Mendoza wishes to help at the mission and Father Gabriel gives him a Bible. In time, Mendoza takes vows and becomes a Jesuit under Father Gabriel and his colleague Father Fielding who is played by Liam Neeson.

The Jesuit missions were protected under Spanish law. The Treaty of Madrid in 1750 reapportions the land in South America. The land on which the Jesuit missions were located was transferred to the Portuguese, and Portuguese law allowed slavery. The Portuguese colonials seek to enslave the natives, and as the independent Jesuit missions might obstruct this, Papal emissary Cardinal Altamirano, a former Jesuit priest himself, is sent from the Vatican to survey the missions and decide which, should be allowed to remain.

Under pressure from Cabeza and Portuguese Governor, Don Hontar Cardinal Altamirano is forced to choose between two. If he rules in favor of the colonists, the indigenous peoples will become enslaved; if he rules in favor of the missions, the Portuguese may condemn the entire Jesuit Order and the European Catholic Church could fracture. Altamirano then visits the missions and is amazed at their industry and success, both in converting the Indians and also economically. At Father Gabriel’s mission of San Carlos he tries to explain the reasons behind closing the mission and instructs the GuaranĂ­ that they must leave.

The GuaranĂ­ question his authority, and Father Gabriel and Mendoza, under threat of excommunication, state their intention to defend the mission should the plantation owners and colonists attack. They then divided on how to do this, and they debate how to respond to the approaching military attack. Father Gabriel believes that violence is a direct crime against God. Mendoza decides to break his vows to militarily defend the Mission. Against Father Gabriel’s wishes, he teaches the natives the European art of war and once more takes up his sword.

When a joint Portuguese and Spanish force attack, Mendoza, Fielding and the Guaraní initially defend the mission. They are no matches for the military force and Mendoza is shot and fatally wounded. Fielding sacrifices himself by killing the Portuguese commander before he himself is killed. When soldiers enter the mission village, the singing of Father Gabriel and the Guaraní women and children who march in the procession slow them. The soldiers are reluctant to fire at a Mass. In spite of this, the Spanish commander orders the attack and Father Gabriel, the rest of the priests and most of the Guaraní, including women and children, are gunned down. Only a handful escape into the jungle.

In a final exchange between Cardinal Altamirano and Don Hontar, Hontar laments that what happened was unfortunate but inevitable because “we must work in the world; the world is thus.” Altamirano replies, “No, thus have we made the world. Thus have I made it.” Days later, a canoe of young children return to the scene of the Mission massacre and salvage a few belongings. They set off up the river, going deeper into the jungle, with the thought that the events will remain in their memories. A final title declares that many priests continue to fight for the rights of indigenous people. The text of John 1:5 is displayed: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”.

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