The Mission...Unaccomplished

The Mission struck me as a fine example of the sheer limitations of a film based off of historical events. Like other mediums, film is of course subject to the same biases faced to anyone relating history. However, a film such as this also is burdened with the necessity to at least attempt to be entertaining. In this, The Mission attempts to capitalize on a few overarching, emotional points and thus fails miserably in communicating an objective scope of life and politics tied to the Jesuit missions in Paraguay. As a result, we are left with two hours of gaping inaccuracies littered with few redeeming qualities.

Before I get too much into The Mission’s shortcomings, I can say the film did a decent job of displaying the power of the religious hegemony of the time. The conflict of the film centers around the fate of the Guarani and the Jesuit missions. When the land containing Jesuit missions is sold to Portugal, a papal representative is consulted to approve whether or not the missions would be able to remain under the protection of the church. While it was clear that the commercial entities of both the Spanish and Portuguese were leaning heavily onto the envoy, a single decision from him enabled the colonists to attack, capture, and kill the Guarani. These actions, while for a secular gain, were performed under the veil of progress and a greater good, keeping the image of the New World as the Europeans “thus had made it.”

What unsettled me the most about The Mission, however, was not what it managed to successfully communicate, but what it missed. The misrepresented and omitted facts would have given a much clearer picture of the relationships between the Guarani, the Church, and the Crown. And while it is difficult to fit all of that into a film, giving a little more attention to these areas would have given it a bit more accuracy and substance.

For all the humanity the filmmakers seemed to want to fuel into the Guarani people, they manage to portray them as a mindless, cultureless, docile creatures.  James Schofield Saeger in “The Mission and Historical Missions” outlines these inaccuracies quite well. In the film, we are initially introduced to the Guarani as a wild, savage people who are effortlessly soothed by the musical talents of Father Gabriel. They take him in and construct a mission in which they accept Christian doctrine with no challenge at all. Saegar explains that in truth, the Guarani accepted the missions in exchange for the tools that improved their way of life. While music was, by no doubt enjoyable, it is highly doubtful that it was an acceptable bribe to change an entire people’s way of life. Kenneth Andrien also notes in Andean Worlds that the conversions to missions were not nearly as simple or widespread. Many rejected attempts from missionaries to encroach on their ways and culture. Unfortunately, in the film, the Guarani do not seem to have been given a culture of their own to lose. We see only the Guarani people through the eyes of their Jesuit missionaries. Because of this, I felt like the Jesuits were more victimized in the film than the Guarani people, because the filmmakers neglected them an identity of their own.

All in all, I found The Mission to be lacking in credibility as a historical representation of Jesuit missions in Paraguay, and due to the lack of substance awarded even less entertainment value.