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The Mission


  1. Directed by: Roland Joffe
  2. Produced by: Fernando Ghia
    David Puttnam
    Iain Smith
    Alejandro Azzano
    Felipe López Caballero
  3. Written by: Robert Bolt
  4. Music by: Ennio Morricone
  5. Cinematography by: Chris Menges
  6. Editing by: Jim Clark
  7. Release Date: 1986
  8. Running Time: 125
  9. Language: English, Guarani, Spanish

Clips

  1. A&F Discussion Thread
  2. IMDb.com
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Netflix

The Mission confronts us with deeply spiritual questions:

·         What are we to make of the fact that the European missionaries often served as the vanguard of colonialism yet also became the staunchest defenders of the colonized against colonial plunder and oppression?

·         To what extent will or should conversion to Christianity change a person, or a whole culture? To what extent, in particular, will or should that change involve assimilation or resistance to dominant European ways of life?

·         When should we disobey authorities if they command us to do something we know to be evil or based in falsehood?

·         Which is the more fundamental force of history: coercive power or self-sacrificial love? Is human life violent by nature, or have we made it thus?

Set in 1700s South America around the stunning Iguazu Falls, the film focuses on a Jesuit mission dedicated to evangelizing the indigenous Guarani people. The film’s action is driven by two distant political events: the suppression of the Jesuits in Europe and a treaty transferring land in South America from Spain, which (at least officially) did not allow enslavement of indigenous peoples, to Portugal, which did. The narrative is framed by the Cardinal who is sent to approve the transfer of the Jesuit missions on Spanish lands to Portugal—essentially, to give imprimatur to their destruction and, in his words, save the body of the Church by amputating a limb, although he admits his reluctance: “nothing had prepared me for the beauty and the power of the limb that I had come here to sever.”

But the heart of film is the relationship of two Jesuits to each other and to the indigenous people who occupy the mission. Father Gabriel is pious, compassionate, and dedicated. He preaches with his tenderness (and his oboe) more than words. Mendoza begins as his opposite—full of pride, murderous rage, and jealousy, a kidnaper and a slaver—but he undergoes a genuine life transformation throughout the film, finding faith and forgiveness from God, some of those he wronged, and himself. The Mission contains a beautiful cinematic depiction of sacramental penance and reconciliation.

Although the final chapters of the film depict violence, the film’s culmination is primarily about conscience: how the priests obey their consciences while those with power disobey or ignore conscience entirely. Yet this too creates a tension around how one should respond to violent injustice: Gabriel defies his superiors to stay with the Guarani in nonviolent solidarity but Mendoza, defying Gabriel in means if not ends, takes up the sword again along with the Guarani who fight to defend themselves. The film’s final foregrounding of conscience in the face of violence and injustice is similar to the ending of A Man for All Seasons, another film in the Arts & Faith Top 100 by the same screenwriter, Robert Bolt. These films are a vivid reminder that the torture and crucifixion of Jesus is not merely a death; it is also God’s victory over sin.

The Mission resonates with many other films in the Arts & Faith Top 100 as well. Films like Of Gods and Men, Sophie Scholl, and Chariots of Fire also foreground faith-informed acts of conscience. Silence is about the ministry and persecution of other Jesuit missionaries (in Japan) and poses similar questions about compromise with state violence and missionaries’ role as protectors of indigenous Christians in the context of colonial and imperial predation. Do the Right Thing presents similar tensions about the role of violence versus nonviolence in the struggle against injustice. But the most essential pairing on the list is with the film closest to The Mission geographically: the Colombian film Embrace of the Serpent, which, unlike The Mission, centers the indigenous perspective on the South American environment and European incursion.  A mission depicted in that film embodies, in the words of the protagonist, “the worst of both worlds,” indigenous and European. The mission settlements in The Mission, on the other hand, though not free from exploitation and superstition, arguably embody the best of both worlds, and the truths of each film complement the other’s.

The story in The Mission is both historical and teleological, both a mirror and a lamp for the path of what it looks like for the light of Jesus to shine into the darkness and the darkness not to overcome it.

-- Robert Zandstra (2020)


  1. Directed by: Roland Joffe
  2. Produced by: Fernando Ghia
    David Puttnam
    Iain Smith
    Alejandro Azzano
    Felipe López Caballero
  3. Written by: Robert Bolt
  4. Music by: Ennio Morricone
  5. Cinematography by: Chris Menges
  6. Editing by: Jim Clark
  7. Release Date: 1986
  8. Running Time: 125
  9. Language: English, Guarani, Spanish

Clips

  1. A&F Discussion Thread
  2. IMDb.com
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Netflix

The Mission confronts us with deeply spiritual questions:

·         What are we to make of the fact that the European missionaries often served as the vanguard of colonialism yet also became the staunchest defenders of the colonized against colonial plunder and oppression?

·         To what extent will or should conversion to Christianity change a person, or a whole culture? To what extent, in particular, will or should that change involve assimilation or resistance to dominant European ways of life?

·         When should we disobey authorities if they command us to do something we know to be evil or based in falsehood?

·         Which is the more fundamental force of history: coercive power or self-sacrificial love? Is human life violent by nature, or have we made it thus?

Set in 1700s South America around the stunning Iguazu Falls, the film focuses on a Jesuit mission dedicated to evangelizing the indigenous Guarani people. The film’s action is driven by two distant political events: the suppression of the Jesuits in Europe and a treaty transferring land in South America from Spain, which (at least officially) did not allow enslavement of indigenous peoples, to Portugal, which did. The narrative is framed by the Cardinal who is sent to approve the transfer of the Jesuit missions on Spanish lands to Portugal—essentially, to give imprimatur to their destruction and, in his words, save the body of the Church by amputating a limb, although he admits his reluctance: “nothing had prepared me for the beauty and the power of the limb that I had come here to sever.”

But the heart of film is the relationship of two Jesuits to each other and to the indigenous people who occupy the mission. Father Gabriel is pious, compassionate, and dedicated. He preaches with his tenderness (and his oboe) more than words. Mendoza begins as his opposite—full of pride, murderous rage, and jealousy, a kidnaper and a slaver—but he undergoes a genuine life transformation throughout the film, finding faith and forgiveness from God, some of those he wronged, and himself. The Mission contains a beautiful cinematic depiction of sacramental penance and reconciliation.

Although the final chapters of the film depict violence, the film’s culmination is primarily about conscience: how the priests obey their consciences while those with power disobey or ignore conscience entirely. Yet this too creates a tension around how one should respond to violent injustice: Gabriel defies his superiors to stay with the Guarani in nonviolent solidarity but Mendoza, defying Gabriel in means if not ends, takes up the sword again along with the Guarani who fight to defend themselves. The film’s final foregrounding of conscience in the face of violence and injustice is similar to the ending of A Man for All Seasons, another film in the Arts & Faith Top 100 by the same screenwriter, Robert Bolt. These films are a vivid reminder that the torture and crucifixion of Jesus is not merely a death; it is also God’s victory over sin.

The Mission resonates with many other films in the Arts & Faith Top 100 as well. Films like Of Gods and Men, Sophie Scholl, and Chariots of Fire also foreground faith-informed acts of conscience. Silence is about the ministry and persecution of other Jesuit missionaries (in Japan) and poses similar questions about compromise with state violence and missionaries’ role as protectors of indigenous Christians in the context of colonial and imperial predation. Do the Right Thing presents similar tensions about the role of violence versus nonviolence in the struggle against injustice. But the most essential pairing on the list is with the film closest to The Mission geographically: the Colombian film Embrace of the Serpent, which, unlike The Mission, centers the indigenous perspective on the South American environment and European incursion.  A mission depicted in that film embodies, in the words of the protagonist, “the worst of both worlds,” indigenous and European. The mission settlements in The Mission, on the other hand, though not free from exploitation and superstition, arguably embody the best of both worlds, and the truths of each film complement the other’s.

The story in The Mission is both historical and teleological, both a mirror and a lamp for the path of what it looks like for the light of Jesus to shine into the darkness and the darkness not to overcome it.

-- Robert Zandstra (2020)

The Mission confronts us with deeply spiritual questions:

·         What are we to make of the fact that the European missionaries often served as the vanguard of colonialism yet also became the staunchest defenders of the colonized against colonial plunder and oppression?

·         To what extent will or should conversion to Christianity change a person, or a whole culture? To what extent, in particular, will or should that change involve assimilation or resistance to dominant European ways of life?

·         When should we disobey authorities if they command us to do something we know to be evil or based in falsehood?

·         Which is the more fundamental force of history: coercive power or self-sacrificial love? Is human life violent by nature, or have we made it thus?

Set in 1700s South America around the stunning Iguazu Falls, the film focuses on a Jesuit mission dedicated to evangelizing the indigenous Guarani people. The film’s action is driven by two distant political events: the suppression of the Jesuits in Europe and a treaty transferring land in South America from Spain, which (at least officially) did not allow enslavement of indigenous peoples, to Portugal, which did. The narrative is framed by the Cardinal who is sent to approve the transfer of the Jesuit missions on Spanish lands to Portugal—essentially, to give imprimatur to their destruction and, in his words, save the body of the Church by amputating a limb, although he admits his reluctance: “nothing had prepared me for the beauty and the power of the limb that I had come here to sever.”

But the heart of film is the relationship of two Jesuits to each other and to the indigenous people who occupy the mission. Father Gabriel is pious, compassionate, and dedicated. He preaches with his tenderness (and his oboe) more than words. Mendoza begins as his opposite—full of pride, murderous rage, and jealousy, a kidnaper and a slaver—but he undergoes a genuine life transformation throughout the film, finding faith and forgiveness from God, some of those he wronged, and himself. The Mission contains a beautiful cinematic depiction of sacramental penance and reconciliation.

Although the final chapters of the film depict violence, the film’s culmination is primarily about conscience: how the priests obey their consciences while those with power disobey or ignore conscience entirely. Yet this too creates a tension around how one should respond to violent injustice: Gabriel defies his superiors to stay with the Guarani in nonviolent solidarity but Mendoza, defying Gabriel in means if not ends, takes up the sword again along with the Guarani who fight to defend themselves. The film’s final foregrounding of conscience in the face of violence and injustice is similar to the ending of A Man for All Seasons, another film in the Arts & Faith Top 100 by the same screenwriter, Robert Bolt. These films are a vivid reminder that the torture and crucifixion of Jesus is not merely a death; it is also God’s victory over sin.

The Mission resonates with many other films in the Arts & Faith Top 100 as well. Films like Of Gods and Men, Sophie Scholl, and Chariots of Fire also foreground faith-informed acts of conscience. Silence is about the ministry and persecution of other Jesuit missionaries (in Japan) and poses similar questions about compromise with state violence and missionaries’ role as protectors of indigenous Christians in the context of colonial and imperial predation. Do the Right Thing presents similar tensions about the role of violence versus nonviolence in the struggle against injustice. But the most essential pairing on the list is with the film closest to The Mission geographically: the Colombian film Embrace of the Serpent, which, unlike The Mission, centers the indigenous perspective on the South American environment and European incursion.  A mission depicted in that film embodies, in the words of the protagonist, “the worst of both worlds,” indigenous and European. The mission settlements in The Mission, on the other hand, though not free from exploitation and superstition, arguably embody the best of both worlds, and the truths of each film complement the other’s.

The story in The Mission is both historical and teleological, both a mirror and a lamp for the path of what it looks like for the light of Jesus to shine into the darkness and the darkness not to overcome it.

-- Robert Zandstra (2020)


  1. Directed by: Roland Joffe
  2. Produced by: Fernando Ghia
    David Puttnam
    Iain Smith
    Alejandro Azzano
    Felipe López Caballero
  3. Written by: Robert Bolt
  4. Music by: Ennio Morricone
  5. Cinematography by: Chris Menges
  6. Editing by: Jim Clark
  7. Release Date: 1986
  8. Running Time: 125
  9. Language: English, Guarani, Spanish

Clips

  1. A&F Discussion Thread
  2. IMDb.com
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Netflix
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