the mission

The mission

The film the mission is a story about Spanish conquest over the Native Americans of Paraguay. It portrays three crucial elements of society at that time; the militaristic Spanish and Portuguese settlers, the Jesuit missionaries, and the native Guarani. The film takes place during a turbulent time, the Guarani War of the 1750’s, and demonstrates the paternalistic attitude some Jesuit missionaries took towards the natives. The films screenplay written by Robert Bolt ultimately aims to demonstrate the brutal and inhumane Spanish and Portuguese colonization of Southern and Central America.

As Saeger points out in his book Based on a True Story, Latin American History at the movies, there are often historical inaccuracies traded for cinematic affects. He notes discrepancies in actual location, native attitudes towards Christianity and compares the on screen society to historical references. This will happen in any major motion pictures portrayal of a historical event. Taken in a broader since Bolts screenplay does do a good job at highlighting the issue of Spanish and Portuguese imperial power the inevitable conquering of indigenous Americans. The movie deals with two facets of imperialism in the Americas, Religious imperialism and military imperialism. It boils down to wealth power and its deterrents, and obviously it would be quicker and easier for the Spanish and Portuguese to gain power through force than religious conquest. Father Gabriel’s character represents the religious Jesuit missionaries who tried feverishly to convert the indigenous people. As Seager points out, it often took decades, even generations for the natives to accept and practice Christianity. You do notice that throughout the movie there was little focus by Father Gabriel or any of his cohorts stressing actual Christian doctrine or practices onto the native people. Their focus was more on understanding and learning about native societies and integrating European ideas of society and religion into the tribes, while making sure to maintain the majority of the indigenous people’s ways of life. The tragic failed military defense strike at the movies climax shows just how much reliance the Spanish and Portuguese imperial powers had on this type of colonization. It also demonstrates how outmatched and under prepared the indigenous people were against European military force, even with the assistance of Mendoza’s military knowledge, home turf advantage, and some modern weapons. I was caught completely off guard by the brutality of the final battle. Bolt strayed away from traditional Hollywood endings in order to ensure his message was historically correct. There was a huge build up to the final battle. You feel like Mendoza’s past military expertise, the making and steeling of weapons, and the heavily fortified and booby-trapped village might actually stand a chance against military action. He also showed the difficulty European militaries had traversing the land in order to conquer menacing natives, as we see in the scene where the Spanish military slowly makes their way up the waterfall . He could have easily gone with a braveheart-esque ending. I was just waiting for DeNiro to blow the bridge after single handedly killing the majority of the invading army, get shot to his knees, bible and Gabriel’s flute in one hand, sword in the other, he stretches his arms out and yells “they can take your village… but they will never take… YOUR FREEDOM!” This of course would be followed immediately by his battle beaten body being riddled with bullets from all angles in slow motion. But in Bolts movie absolutely nothing goes right in this battle. The Spanish and Portuguese did in fact take their freedom by enslaving them, killing them, and conquering them and Bolt wanted to demonstrate this. There are very few instances where indigenous revolts were in fact successful. Kenneth Andrien discusses the Incan revolts in the Northern Andes, which were looked at as some of the most organized and successful indigenous revolts in South America. In both cases the leaders were executed and the revolt was surprised. The Mission’s purpose was to highlight the helplessness of native societies and cruelty of European imperialism.

 Taylor Ross