Spanish Jesuits try to prevent Portuguese slavers from destroying
a remote South American tribe that's converted to Christianity.
The Mission (1986)
Directed by Roland Joffé
Written by Robert Bolt
Starring Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Ray McAnally,
Aidan Quinn, Ronald Pickup, Chuck Low, Liam Neeson
Oscar Wins - Best Cinematography
Oscar Nominations - Best Picture, Best Director,
Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing,
Best Original Score (Ennio Morricone)
The Christian conquest of South America remains one of mankind's biggest atrocities. It's never quite been replicated on film in the best of ways. Somehow, a white Christian always manages to be the hero against other white Christians who are, for reasons that the film never explains, worse than the first white Christians. That's my main problem with The Mission, which paints the Jesuits as white saviors and gives the Guarani zero agency. The film is also really dull and hard to follow at times. Apart from the performances, I wasn't a fan.
Father Gabriel (Irons) is a Jesuit priest who wants to convert the isolated Guarani tribe to Christianity. Of course, the Guarani don't want to be Christians, but Gabriel somehow talks them into it. Meanwhile, a vicious mercenary named Mendoza (De Niro) kills his brother in a fit of rage and wants to be forgiven by Christ. So, he joins Gabriel's crusade and together, they try to protect the Guarani from outside threats, mainly the invading Portuguese who are trying to enslave them. Personally, I failed to see any difference between the Spanish and Portuguese in terms of invading forces. Both raped, murdered, and subjugated entire tribes of people who didn't believe in their God.
The Mission looks beautiful and has an incredible score by the late great Ennio Morricone, but the substance is all surface level. There are times where it feels painfully insincere. Maybe one day, we'll get an honest movie about the European conquest of South America (and Africa, for that matter), but it certainly hasn't happened yet.