The Mission

After having heard a lot about The Mission and how moving so many people found it to be, I was excited to view it in class. However, upon watching it, I found the portrayal of the Guarani and the glorification of the Jesuits to be shocking. Though it is to be expected that some artistic license would be taken in order to enhance the story, the result was boring, ineffectual piece that blatantly misrepresented the major groups involved.

In this representation by director Roland Joffe and screenwriter Robert Bolt, the Guarani are shown to be simple hunter-gatherers that are easily won over by Father Gabriel’s playing of an instrument. They seem to have no culture or established way of life and thus are quick to live within the newly established mission. In doing so, the indigenous population is shown to take little action in regards to their own interests or wellbeing. However, history proves that people throughout Latin American resisted fiercely to the change introduced by both secular European and Religious forces. The reading by Kenneth Andrien clearly illustrates the attempts made by the indigenous people to rebel against European rule from the time of conquest through the nineteenth century.

Though Andrien does indicate that some groups did appreciate missions, it was not for religious conversion. The James Schofield Saeger reading supports this saying that the “Guaranis first accepted Catholic missions… because they received protection from their Native American and European enemies and steady supplies of such iron tools as hatchets and knives, which revolutionized their lives.” Not only did the Guarani accept the missions because of the goods they could provide, but they did so as early as the 16th century, 200 years before The Mission takes place.

The movie Jesuits are shown to be far more open-minded and accepting of what little Guarani culture the film shows than real life missionaries would have been. As stated by Saeger, the film “shows bare-breasted Guarani mothers bathing their children, as in an old National Geographic. Movie Jesuits, unlike real missionaries are comfortable with public female nakedness. In the 1700s, though, Father Martin Dobrizhoffer, S.J., knew that breasts were ‘parts of the body… which modesty commands to be concealed.’ He also noted that the Guarani women of Taruma were ‘decently clad from the shoulders to the heels.” Not only would actual Jesuit priests not have been accepting of the costumes worn by the Guarani in the film, the Guarani would not have worn them. The only possible reason for this costume choice would be to appeal to the preconceived notion that indigenous people are uncivilized because they do not adhere to conventions of Western culture.

The Mission completely missed when attempting to convey a “true” story about the establishment of South American missions. As the director and screenwriter misrepresented the history of colonization, they managed to demean an entire culture in order to present a film in which the most interesting part was Robert De Niro dragging a bag of armor around the forest for 20 minutes.