The Mission - and it’s historical accuracy

My initial reaction to watching Roland Joffe’s “The Mission”was feeling completely enveloped by the beautiful backdrop of the location, the impressive rock climbing shots up the side of the waterfall, and the dramatic death of the priest tied to the cross cascading down the waterfall. However, the beginning was more promising than the film ended up being. It seemed too predictable and generalized. I was disappointed with the lack of character development across the board but especially with the Guarani people. They (the Guarani’s) seemed a compilation of generic stereotypes of aboriginals lacking any individuation or personal identity. After having read more about the Guarani’s and learning about their way of life and struggles with the encroaching settlers, I am even more disappointed with the film. I thought Joffe could have kept it more accurate without loosing the broad audience or having to sacrafice all of the creative input. I also found DeNiro’s character fell into stereotyping as well of a hot-headed, egocentric, and arrogant Spanish brute. The Jesuits seemed one dimensional and so saintly to a point that it was not believable. However, my opinion of the film is not what is really to be discussed but rather the films historical accuracy. Having an opportunity to read some of the historical accounts of what was actually happening, it is my opinion that the conflicts were over-simplified and the roles of those involved only thinly adhered to a few true historical accounts leaving this film more fictitious than factual.  

Though it would be nice to believe the films portrayal of the Jesuits as being altruistic in their efforts to teach the Guarani’s Christianity, this was not the whole picture. The Jesuits benefited financially from having the Guarani’s work their given roles within the missions. The article by Olag Merino and Linda Newson “Jesuit Missions in Spanish Amercia: the Aftermath of the Expulsion” states that “Jesuit missionary efforts were financed largely from their sugar estates and livestock raising enterprises” which was only possible by the subjugation of the Guarani people. Though the Jesuits did provide some refuge from forced labor of  the Portugal and Spaniard slave trade, they were in turn subjected to Jesuit rules and order.  

The peacful co-habitation of the Guarani’s and the Jesuits in the film was more reflective of the very early (and relatively brief) start of the mission movements  in the 1500s. By the 1700s the Jesuits were facing much more resistance from the Guarani’s. So, the opening of the film takes a huge liberty to state that what we were about to see actually happened in the year 1750 because the relationship between the Guarani and the Jesuits had long since evoloved from one of mutual respect to one of an oppressed and an oppressor.

By sidestepping what was actually happening in the 1750s, the film makers completely miss out on how the Guarani’s were involved in the economic stability of the mission. It fails to show that the Guarani’s were given little freedom within the missions. The film also fails to capture the adaptive nature of the Guarani people who were fully capable of leading their own lives. The film also suggests that the Jesuits simply wanted to come in and make the Guarani’s aware of Christianity but in actuality they were sent to initiate the complete take over of their way of life.  Merino and Newson’s  article also states that ” In theory they [the missions] were to last only ten years, after which they were to be handed over to the secular clergy and the Indians made liable for tribute payment and labour service.” This demonstrates that the Jesuits were part of the exploitation of the Guarani’s to forever be in a position of servitude to Spanish rule.

-Abbie W