The Mission

The film “The Mission,” which tells the story of Jesuit priests and Guarani Indians, is quite compelling it relating the story of the horros that took place during the period of colonization. The film is told from the church’s perspective which played a large role in colonization. I venture to guess that had it been told from the Indians perspective, the story would have been quite different.  D.W. Griffith’s prediction that “moving pictures” would become the way in which people get their information about the past did not come entirely through to fruition. Film is a powerful element of education, but it is also a powerful element of persuasion. During WWII people watched news reels at the movies that showed war footage, but even those were “a distortion to some degree” (The Best War Ever: American and World War II). I don’t think that people watch movies today and take what they see as truth of how things were. True, it does offer glimpses into the past and stereotypes and prejudices can often be seen. The problem with believing that history could be captured on film, or through photography totally unbiased, is that the events being captured are being interpreted by the one doing the filming or photography. They shoot what they deem historically relevant. Their perceptions, cultural and religious views taint what they record, so filming things “as it really was” becomes very hard to do. Documentaries often give the viewer a good glimpse into history, transporting us back to times and places we could never have seen or experienced, but still we must trust that the facts given are true. I found it interesting that D.W. Griffith believed that we would be viewing history about Napoleon as it happened. The reason we still have piles upon piles of books is because there are differing viewpoints to every event in history. Even those who were there and witnessed the event  have differing opinions on what happened and why. There are always opinions recounting history. We can not see “exactly what did happen” because we were not there. A point in the reading was made that if we were to simply sit down and watch history we would become uncritical observers. Is that really possible? We all bring in our own biases, beliefs and backgrounds. We learn from history because we ask the question, “Why?” Why did an event happen? What drove those involved to take the action they took? These are questions that are up for debate and cannot be answered just by watching a film or looking at a picture. However, a good point has been made. Most people, including myself, get a majority of our news from TV, rather than print. There again, we decide what to believe as fact. The more I read this passage the more I see the point. We are all gaining knowledge of history through a biased source. Which brings me back to the film, “The Mission.” The Jesuit priets had the goal of preaching the Christian religion to save the souls of the Indians, but that isn’t all that happened. According to “Born in Blood and Fire,” the very presence of Europeans changed who the Indians were before “the Encounter.” While the priests motives were portrayed as good in the film, the end result was the annihilation of the group. While the priets motives were good, those behind the priests, i.e., church hierarchy, Portugal and Spain’s governments, had very different ideas about the indigenous people. It became more profitable to have them as slaves than to have them saved, educated and “European-ized.” Page 80 in “Born in Blood and Fire” gives an example of this very idea. Slave hunters “overran missions and captured their inhabitants.” I guess my point is this, while film can, and does, offer the viewer the chance to experience history it often only offers one perspective and that perspective is tainted by the storyteller. History, inparticular, the history of the Guarani Indians goes much deeper than the film could show in a 2 hour span of time and it is our job as studiers of history to seek that out for ourselves.