Often The Mission is shown in academic classes. I personally have seen it in a Spanish class I took last summer. Never before have I been given the task to analyze its historical credibility until now, and I am astonished at how one-sided the film actually is.
Film has an incredible power over the human mind. If you watch a movie that’s “based on a true story” it is common for you to believe most of what is being portrayed. Having watched The Mission before and never discussing its historical accuracy, I must admit that I was sucked into its false portrayals. After reading more about the film, particularly the excerpt from The Mission and Historical Missions Film and the Writing of History by James Scholfield Saeger, I now have a completely different view on this film. I was sad while watching the film in class but now I am even more deeply saddened how repressed the Guarani actually were, even by the Jesuits.
The first inaccurate portrayal of the Guarani literally was the first scene of the movie when they put a priest on a cross into the water to fall to his death. The movie never specifically said why they did this or how the priest offended them. It simply caused the viewer to be misguided into depicting them as savage. It also seems that the film’s writer, Robert Bolt, wanted to once again illustrate them as aggressive as they were hunting a wild pig through the forest and pierced its heart to kill it. This portrayal made the viewer think they were not civil when the real aboriginal Guarani were horticulturalists.
Throughout the movie the Guarani do not speak a word of English, making it difficult for the viewer to pick up on their cultural and political opinions. What director Roland Joffe made it seem like was that the Guarani interests were the same as the Jesuit’s. This simply is historically inaccurate. Guarani were typically not at the missions by choice. In fact they tried to flee the missions if the opportunity presented itself. While at the missions, Guaranis actually wanted more participation in harvests and the market but the Jesuits would not allow it. The Jesuits would actually lock produce in warehouses to invest it in other Jesuit projects. The Guarani could not remove the products of their labor without permission. In addition, Jesuit beatings of the Guarani were not uncommon.
One accuracy that did clearly stand out was why the mission reached its demise. In Jesuit Missions in Spanish America: The Aftermath of the Expulsion by Olga Merino and Linda A. Newson, they analyze a few common factors of why missions declined. Four factors they came up with were the shortage of clergy, the lack of financial support, mismanagement of the new administration and political conflicts. All of these points could be seen in The Mission with great highlight on political conflicts. The Portuguese and Spanish could not agree on borders and thus some missions were compromised and destroyed in the process.
Overall, I did enjoy this movie but only as a historical representation from the European viewpoint. The Mission severely lacks input from the Guarani perspective and for any viewer that did not realize this, I feel sorry for the inaccurate historical knowledge they may walk away with.