Though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains and have not love, I am nothing.
-Mendoza, 1 Corinthians 13:2
The Mission depicts the Spanish conquest of Paraguay through an egocentric lens. It looks at the experience from the eyes of the Jesuit priests. For the most part, it disregards the point of view of the elite and government leaders of Spain. It depicts them as ruthless and greedy. The film absolutely does not take into account the indigenous people’s experience. It portrays them as stupid because they so willingly convert to Christianity and adopt European ways. Since the film does not look objectively at all the different people’s involved within the conquest, it should not be taken as historical fact. The Mission is a piece of art—an opinion. But it does ask people to discuss the conquest by drawing a long line between two views of the conquest, between the Jesuit priests and the Spanish rulers.
First of all, since the film concentrates on the Jesuit perspective, the film becomes anti-Hispanic. It does not examine the complexities of the Guarani indigenous people. They so willingly adopt Christianity and European customs. For example, in the reading by James Schofield Saeger, it says the film does not examine any resistance to be Christians and live in the Jesuits’ missions, but in real life, the Guarani did rebel. Some of them would live on the outskirts of the mission and refuse to stay in the cells built for them.
Furthermore, Saeger says the film presents the Guarani as stupid. It doesn’t examine their economic motives for resistance, such as real estate and livestock issues. Lastly, Saegar critiques the film as looking at the indigenous population as barbaric. In the film, Priest Gabriel defends the Indians killing their young as a means to escape Spanish enslavement. But historically, the Guarani did not commit infanticide. So, the film presents the Guarani as non-rebellious, stupid and barbaric—all of which are not historically accurate.
In contrast, looking at the film through the Jesuit priests’ perspective, the priests become the heroes. Father Gabriel is the hero of The Mission. Audiences root for him, starting at the beginning of the film when he goes to the jungle armed with only an oboe. Just a few minutes earlier, audiences saw Indians push a white man down the river to his death. So, Father Gabriel is a martyr. He’s going to the Guarani out of love. But actually, according to Saeger, there were few Jesuits who were martyred by Guaranis in the 1700s. The portrayal of Jesuits as martyrs is unrealistic.
But it is historically accurate that the priests were on the side of the indigenous populations. In the reading, “Resistance, Rebellion and Consciousness,” it says clergymen and Tupac Amaru II, who formed rebellions against the Spanish, both disliked the Spanish leader Antonio de Arriaga. The clergymen excommunicated him, and Amaru eventually captured and sentenced him to death.
Furthermore, the film does not take other factors into account, like disease, when telling the story of the conquest of Paraguay. In chapter one of Born in Blood and Fire, it says European diseases nearly decimated the indigenous population. By 1600, Spanish conquistadors were bringing Africans to replace Indian slaves who had died due to disease. So, the indigenous population was being eliminated, whether intentional or not.
In conclusion, the film, The Mission, is not a good piece of history. It is meant to be an opinion of history, through one perspective: the Jesuit priests. The priests truly believe that God is love, and they desire for the indigenous populations to become Christians. Their pursuit conflicts with the Spanish leaders desire for more land and power. So, an underhanded theme of this film is Christianity. It’s very possible that the screenwriter, Robert Bolt, is saying those who desire power and money, like the Spanish leaders, are not true Christians even though they claim to be.