Film: The Mission (1986)
Director: Roland Joffé
Cast: Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson, Ray McAnally, Aidan Quinn Cherie Lunghi
Based on tragic historical events this movie tells the gripping tale of the Jesuit missionary martyrs who fought the colonialist exploitation of Amazonian natives in the 1750s.When the first Jesuit missionary was sent to start a mission among the jungle tribe of Guaraní in Paraguay, he was killed by the natives who hated and feared the enslaving European colonists. When Spain and Portugal were disputing over Amazonian territories, the Spanish Jesuit Gabriel reached the Guarani village in a fresh attempt and wins them over with his music and builds his mission.
Rodrigo Mendoza, a kidnapper, slave trader and mercenary, murders his own brother over a failed love affair. He escapes punishment, repents and Fr Gabriel converts him. He participates in the Guarani mission when the natives forgive him and accept him. Mendoza helps to build up the mission, providing education and a better life to the poor Guarani, eventually becoming a Jesuit.
When the Portuguese take over the territory after ‘The Treaty of Madrid’, the natives are threatened with enslavement. The missionaries oppose this. The Vatican sends an emissary to decide upon the future of the missions in the area. He is politically manipulated; and the local Cardinal is caught in the intrigue. Though during his visit to the mission he is impressed by work of the missionaries, among the Guarani, he declines to support the Jesuits in fear of persecution by the Portuguese. If he favours the colonists, the natives would be enslaved. The Cardinal orders to close the mission asking the people to move away, explaining it as God’s will.
The Guarani refuse to abandon their village. Risking excommunication, Gabriel and Mendoza join them. The two cannot agree on the method of fighting injustice. Gabriel believes that violence is against God; Mendoza believes in a ‘just war.’ He gives up his vow of peace to put up a fight. He trains the natives to battle the invading Portuguese army. In the climactic showdown, Fr Fielding, the head of the Mission, gets killed fighting the Portuguese commander. Fr Gabriel leads a procession of the unarmed villagers, with the Blessed Sacrament held aloft facing the invaders. Both Gabriel and Mendoza are killed in the massacre that follows. When Gabriel falls with monstrance in hand a little child picks it up and leads the procession.
Later the Governor offers his regret to the Cardinal, but the Cardinal’s reply implies that it is a world of their making. As a tribute to the heroic missionaries who fought for the rights of indigenous people and as an exploration of the opposition between peaceful resistance and ‘just war’ for bringing about change, the film is outstanding. Shot on location and starring top notch artists, the movie is regarded as the greatest Catholic movie of the recent decades. It won one Oscar (with 9 nominations), several international awards – BAFTA, Cannes, and Venice Festival awards.
Prof. Gigy Joseph Koottummel was Head of the Department of English SB College, Changanacherry. After three decades of teaching English Language and Literature he worked as Principal of a College. He did his doctoral work on Narratology. He is a sought after writer, translator, columnist and actor-director of Shakespeare productions.