The Mission, released in 1986, tells a story of Jesuit missionaries sharing the gospel with an indigenous tribe, the Guarani. A group of Guaranís, in an effort to escape forced labor, flee to the highlands of a plateau in the area where Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil meet. In director Roland Joffe’s movie, Father Gabriel is inspired by the Guarani within his community and their love for music and seeks out the Guarani of the plateau in order to spread the word of the Lord and bring culture to the natives. Historically, Iberian culture impacted groups such as the Guarani both spiritually and economically. The Guarani were self-sufficient, but their lifestyle was not made easy by slave traders. The missions set up by the Jesuits, such as San Carlos in the movie, provided a sanctuary for the Guarani. In The Mission, the Jesuits brought with them only the gospel and love for their fellow man. Their induction into indigenous culture proved to be quite simple.
With a simple oboe song, Father Gabriel is able to avoid the Guarani’s wrath, which sent a Jesuit colleague of his to his death. In a second act of kindness to the Guarani, Father Gabriel orders Rodrigo Mendoza, a Spanish mercenary, to leave the Guarani alone, further making this of a loosely historical film, but solidifying a character arc and a prime conflict. Nevertheless, this conflict between the Jesuits and Indian hunters is quite grounded. Tribes like the Guarani did seek refuge from oppressors in these missions. Protected by the Catholic Church, a mission protected Indians from forced labor, but work was still in demand. The Mission deviates from historical accounts pertaining to economic production in indigenous communities. The Guaraní’s’ religious affairs were no less simple.
In The Mission, the Guarani, in their perfect world, appear to accept Christianity wholly and quickly. This is the film’s largest inaccuracy. The Guarani believed in magical spirit powers, and their clergy consisted of native religious practitioners, or shamans. In some cases, their religious leaders taught against Jesuits, encouraging the Guarani to leave the missions and flee. Historically, Jesuits employed persuasion and rewards to gain Guarani followers. The indigenous people were in need of iron tools to improve their agriculture, which the Jesuits were glad to provide. In The Mission, the Jesuits almost immersed themselves into the Guarani culture, contrary to the historical opposite, providing little to no improvements to the indigenous way of life. Only in the final battle scene did we see European warfare employed by the Guarani. As seen in the movie, real missions did subject their residents to economic regulation. At San Carlos, the Guarani gave back ninety percent of what they earned, and at San Miguel, their earnings were split evenly among everyone.
In the end, the introduction of European religion and technology to the indigenous people of Latin America brought with it both success and substantially more conflict. The constant change of power across the Atlantic impacted life in the highlands of South America and caused many indigenous people to lose both their homes and their lives. Director Rolland Joffe’s film, The Mission, accurately emphasizes the impact of Europeans on the indigenous, but erroneously depicts the difficulty involved in mixing two opposite cultures.