The Mission is a beautiful, yet heart wrenching movie which not only won an Oscar for Best Cinematography, but was also nominated for six others, including Best Picture, Director, Film Editing, Costume Design, Art Direction, and Original Score. It tells the story of the 18th Century struggle between the South American native tribes, most notably the Guarani, and the Spanish and Portugese mercenaries who were attempting to capture and enslave them during this time period. Caught in the middle of this conflict are the Jesuit priests who founded several missions in the area in an attempt to spread their religious beliefs to the native inhabitants.
Superb roles are turned in by Jeremy Irons and Robert DeNiro who play characters that are in stark contrast to one another, yet similar in their compassion and courage. Irons portrays Father Gabriel, a Jesuit priest who travels deep into the jungle bringing Christianity to the Guarani tribe. He is a man of deep convictions, as well as courage, compassion, and love. DeNiro portrays Rodrigo Mendoza, a slave trader who kills his brother, threatens suicide, and is ultimately brought out to the Guarani tribe by Father Gabriel to give him a chance for penance. After spending some time with the tribe, and the Jesuit priests living among them, Mendoza decides to join the priesthood and adopts the ways of the Jesuits. This has to be one of Robert DeNiro’s most underrated performances, as his transformation from slave trader to priest is nothing short of magical. One of the most amazing moments in the movie occurs when Mendoza first meets the Guarani tribe while performing his penance. It’s a powerful scene of forgiveness and love which is done to absolute perfection by DeNiro.
The ultimate conflict in The Mission is over the ceding of the land occupied by the Guarani and various other tribes from the Spanish to the Portuguese, and whether or not the church would continue to pledge their support and protection for the Jesuit missions which had been founded in those areas. Without this protection, the native people living in those missions would be unprotected from slave traders and would almost certainly be either killed, or captured and sold into slavery. Ultimately, Mendoza and Father Gabriel, as well as the other Jesuit priests who occupy the missions, have to make a choice about what they will do once this decision is made; as well as what strategies they will use to help these native tribes they have developed such a close relationship with and ministered to.
The Mission not only demonstrates the human traits of courage and love as demonstrated by the Jesuits and Guarani, but likewise shows us the all too real human traits of betrayal and greed which pervades throughout the world of the slave traders, church, and political climate in Europe during the time period. On top of this human aspect of the film, The Mission is also a beautiful movie from a visual standpoint. It was well deserving of the Cinematography Oscar it won, as the South American landscape is brought to life by cinematographer, Chris Menges. Despite the fact that it did not win an Oscar, Ennio Morricone’s musical score is also worth noting. To give you an idea of how good the music is, and the kind of impression it leaves on people, one of the first things most people say when I discuss The Mission with them is how much they love the music. Its impact on the film cannot be understated. I highly recommend The Mission with its story of courage, forgiveness, betrayal, compassion, and love. If you have not seen it, I hope you will check it out from our collection today. If you have seen it, I would be interested to hear any comments and opinions you might have.
Rated PG – 126 Minutes