“The Mission,” directed by Roland Joffe does a good job of portraying the struggles of native people during the colonial period. Despite a few historical inaccuracies, the film, in my opinion, decently depicts the hardships endured by both the natives and the Jesuit missionaries who truly believed that they were performing the “work of God.” I will first discuss some of the historical discrepancies in the movie as pointed out by James Saeger in his essay “The Mission and Historical Missions.”
First of all, Saeger concludes that the historically, the Guaranis were slow to accept Christianity. The film however seems to portray them as quickly converting from their native practices and quickly accepting many of the religious practices of the Jesuit missionaries. In fact, the Guaranis often held on to their believes for generations and their beliefs often clashed with those of the Christian missionaries. The film also gives little background information on the reasons for the Guaranis to move into the mission settlement. Saeger states that the main reasons were for defence from other tribes with whom they often fought and for the iron tools and other technologies that made life, especially agriculture far easier and efficient. Due to the time constraints of film, many background details must be omitted. More information on the political structure of the Guarani people would have also been helpful in understanding them. In my opinion the film did not go into enough depth regarding the native cultures or even the political climate regarding the Jesuit missions during this time period.
Another inaccuracy portrayed in the film is one that I found quite glaring. It depicts the Guarani at the beginning of the movie as a more nomadic hunter-gatherer tribe than they were in reality. In fact, according to Saeger, they were an agrarian people, who farmed for sustenance. This agrarian lifestyle is historically important because one of the reasons the Guarani were attracted to the missions was to receive the metal tools and other farming technology that made their lives much easier. This also explains why they were good candidates for being part of a mission. These agricultural skills would have been essential for the economic prosperity of the mission, according the Saeger. The film also portrays the tribe as being very scantily clad and the women nude. In reality, according the Saeger, they wore much more clothing that the movie would suggest. The Jesuit missionaries would have been offended by such nudity and would not have allowed scenes such as the part of the film were they are playing the river occur within the territory of the mission.
Though there are a number of historical inaccuracies and a very limited amount of background information of insight into the culture a Guaranies, the film does a good job of portraying the at times brutal treatment of native people by there colonial overlords. The dehumanization of natives was in fact quite common, more so in earlier periods of colonization than the 1700s, but the point of the movies is made and quite powerful.