Having never had any previous knowledge of the movie The Mission I felt relatively unbiased sitting down to watch the film. Unfortunately for me, the movie was not as engaging as I had hoped. While it was interesting to see a young Robert De Niro play the part of a conformed Spanish mercenary the films historical accuracy and plot progression left much to be desired.
While the movie The Mission was in general an acceptable historical portrayal of the conversion of the Guarani people there were some key inaccuracies present during the film. I was disappointed by this films portrayal of the Guarani’s and their interactions with the Jesuits throughout the film; I feel it was a glamourized interpretation of the Guarani tribe’s lifestyle and relations with the Jesuit missionaries. James Schofield Saeger’s article ‘The Mission and Historical Missions’ was an interesting resource because it dissected the film and examined every historical accuracy and more often inaccuracy that was present throughout it.
One of the main misrepresentations that were present in the film was that of the often easy and unforced relations between the Guarani and Jesuit missionaries. Saeger’s article state that while the Indians of Paraguay often tolerated the Jesuits due to the economic benefits they acquired through trade with them and the added benefit of protection, they did not give up their own cultural beliefs as quickly as the movie portrayed. Originally the missions meant protection from other European and Native American adversaries and it brought tools such as iron that were used to increase crop production, this relationship with the Spaniards and Jesuits continued until it became unequal.
The film focused on the view of the Guarani people from a European perspective often showing their society as backwards until they accepted Christ and began developing more European ways of living. Its focus on the cinematic landscape and natural state of the Guarani made them appear more like simpletons instead of creating a focus around their agrarian society and established cultural beliefs. This angle also aided in glorifying the Jesuits and their actions towards the tribe. Saeger also examines the conversion of the Guarani tribe. The film shows the tribe readily adopting the ways and beliefs of Christianity while in reality this was far from the case. Christian ideology conflicted with pre-established tribal beliefs.
Another incorrect aspect of the movie was that of the chronology. The debate about the closing or the missions and Indians legal status actually occurred in the 1500’s but artistic license used it 200 years later in order to place blame in the film on the Spanish lawmakers for the ensued plight of the Guarani. This idea of artistic license is often seen in films as explained in the introduction to Donald F. Stevens article ‘Based on a true story, Latin American history at the movies’. Similar to an introductory line of “based on a true story” films often state that they are based on true historical events. While these events may have occurred, filmmakers have often taken liberties with them.
Although I do not feel this was an atrociously inaccurate film I do believe they could have done a better job in their portrayal of the Guarani people. There was not focus on their own culture and the film seemed extremely biased towards the traditional view of the benevolent Jesuits, not focusing in or referencing many of the conflicts that occurred between them.