The Mission- A Self Defeating Film

I must admit that I was deeply moved by The Mission. It is a tragic portrayal of  the removal of Jesuit missions in South America in the 1750s which ends in the slaughter of many natives and the priests who led them. It saddened me that this actually happened. How could people treat other human beings in such a terrible manner? Then I learned more of the actual events that took place in this time period. After doing this, it seemed to me  that the film and the history books tell a different story. If we take a closer look at the film, given the actual historic events it is “based” on, we will find, I believe, that The Mission is guilty of the very same sins it speaks out against.

First we must look at the message the film is trying to send. The plot basically contains a few different groups of people: Jesuit priests, Native Americans, The Portugese, The Spanish, and a representative of the church from Europe. The priests and the natives (the good guys) are trying to defend their homes (the missions) from being turned over to the Portugese (bad guys). This would be advantageous to the Spanish (also bad guys). All of this is to be ultimately decided by the church representative ( a guy who wants to be good, but his hands are tied). The bad guys are motivated by greed. They do not view the natives as human beings, therefore they are slaves. The Jesuits love the natives, ant use the missions to protect them from slavery and give them a home. The European representative gives them the bad news that the missions are to be turned over to the Portugese, ant the priests and natives must leave. The good guys do not leave, but stay and fight. The bad guys show no mercy, slaughtering even the unarmed women children, and elderly. All of these show the evils of the European view of the Native Americans as not even being human.

This view of the natives that the film speaks against is a view that the film is guilty of sharing.  In learning much of the true history of these events by reading  James Scofield Saeger’s “The Mission and Historical Missions” we find the underlying attitudes of this picture. One of the biggest implications of the movie is that, in the final battle, it was necessary for the natives, untrained as they were, to be led by the priests. Historically, the natives led and organized their own uprisings without the help of “more knowledgeable whites”. In the film, it seems that if the missions did not exist, the natives would be hopeless. The missions were absolutely necessary for their survival, according to the movie. In the very beginning of the picture we see the natives execute a priest. There is never an explanation for this. We are simply to assume that this is just the way the natives act. Their words are only transated by the priests, we do not truely get a viewpoint from the natives. All of these are ways we can see undertones that show The Mission viewing the natives in the same way the “bad guys” view them.