“The Mission” was a very interesting movie to me for a number of reasons. I honestly haven’t spent much time researching Latin American history, but I’ve been in a number of Religious Studies classes and know quite a bit about the Jesuits, which is where a lot of my insight came from, but I also saw some things having to do with the Guarani.
First, I noticed some odd things happening in a Jesuit Mission. The Jesuit Order was an extremely pious order of Christians who followed a strict moral code in both dress and action. Therefore it was very curious to see Guarani women walking around Jesuit missions topless. I don’t believe that would have been tolerated by the Jesuits in their own mission, no matter what the native population thought. After all, the Jesuits were there to convert the Guarani to both Christianity and their way of life. Later in the movie I did see some women beginning to wear shirts, but there were still women going topless. I don’t know if this was an oversight by the filmmakers, the historians consulted, or if it was simply ignored in the hopes of portraying the Guarani as uncultured and in need of the Jesuits to sweep in and save them from themselves.
This problem with naked Guarani was also noted by James Schofield Saeger in Chapter Five of Dnoald F. Stevens’ Based on a true story, Latin American history at the movies when he quotes a Jesuit by the name of Father Martin Dobrizhoffer knowing that “breasts were ‘parts of the body … which modesty commands to be concealed.’” Clearly the filmmakers missed something with the naked women around the mission. Saeger also notes later in his chapter that women at the Guarani mission of Taruma were “decently clad.” This bring into question the historical accuracy of “The Mission” not just on the level of events, but also the accuracy with which the Guarani were portrayed.
I also found fault with what Father Gabriel said about the Guarani conversions. I believe he said that the conversions were going well within less than a year of the new mission being established. During class I found this to be a dubious statement considering that when Islam spread across Northern Africa it took much longer than a year to convert the newly conquered peoples. In fact, most didn’t convert and were considered “people of the book” who kept their own beliefs in the face of Muslim incursion. While the situation in “The Mission” is different in that the Jesuits were not conquerors, I still find it hard to believe that the Guarani would abandon their beliefs so quickly. Maybe this was done on the part of the filmmakers to make it seem like the Jesuits were achieving things on a much faster track because the movie could not portray Jesuit missionary activities over the course of years. I am sure some Guarani were won over by the protection offered by the Jesuits, but I still find it hard to believe that there were mass conversions in such a short time period.
Overall I thought “The Mission” was a good movie, despite its failure at historical accuracy. Also, how could the Guarani have lost? They had Jedi on their side (Liam Neeson) and Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro).