|Directed by||Roland Joffé|
|Written by||Robert Bolt|
|Edited by||Jim Clark|
|Music by||Ennio Morricone|
|Distributed by||Columbia-Cannon-Warner Distributors|
|Box office||$17.2 million|
The Mission is a 1986 British period drama film about the experiences of a Jesuit missionary in 18th-century South America. Directed by Roland Joffé and written by Robert Bolt, the film stars Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Ray McAnally, Aidan Quinn, Cherie Lunghi, and Liam Neeson.
The film premiered in competition at the 39th Cannes Film Festival, winning the Palme d'Or. At the 59th Academy Awards it was nominated for seven awards including Best Picture and Best Director, winning for Best Cinematography. The film has also been cited as one of the greatest religious films of all time, appearing in the Vatican film list's "Religion" section and being number one on the Church Times' Top 50 Religious Films list.
In the 1750s, Jesuit priest Father Gabriel enters the eastern Paraguayan jungle to convert the Guaraní to Christianity. He sends a priest to make contact with them, but they tie the priest to a cross and send him to his death over the Iguazu Falls. Father Gabriel travels to the falls and plays his oboe. One of the Guaraní breaks the oboe. Father Gabriel does not react and the remaining Guaraní, captivated by the music, take him to their village.
Rodrigo Mendoza kidnaps natives and sells them to plantations, including that of the Spanish Governor Don Cabeza. His fiancée Carlotta confesses that she is in love with his half-brother Felipe. Mendoza finds them in bed and kills Felipe in a duel. He spirals into depression. Father Gabriel challenges Mendoza to do penance. Mendoza accompanies the Jesuits on their return, dragging a bundle containing his armour and sword. The natives recognise their persecutor, but soon forgive a tearful Mendoza, cutting away his heavy bundle. Father Gabriel's mission is depicted as a place of sanctuary and education for the Guaraní. Moved by the Guaraní's acceptance, Mendoza wishes to help and Father Gabriel gives him a Bible. In time, Mendoza takes vows and becomes a Jesuit.
With the protection offered under Spanish law, the Jesuit missions have been safe. The Treaty of Madrid reapportions land on which the missions are located, transferring it to the Portuguese, who allow slavery. The Portuguese seek to enslave the natives and as the Jesuit missions might impede this, Papal emissary Cardinal Altamirano, a Jesuit, is sent to survey the missions and decide which, if any, should be allowed to remain.
Under pressure from both Cabeza and Portuguese representative Hontar, Altamirano is forced to choose between two evils. If he rules in favour of the colonists, the indigenous peoples will become enslaved; if in favour of the missions, the Jesuit Order may be condemned by the Portuguese and the Catholic Church could fracture. Altamirano visits the missions and is amazed at their success in converting the native peoples. At Father Gabriel's mission, he tries to explain the reasons behind closing the missions and instructs the Guaraní that they must leave, because "it is God's will." The Guaraní question this and argue that God's will is to develop the mission. Father Gabriel and Mendoza, under threat of excommunication, state their intention to defend the mission alongside the Guaraní if the plantation owners and colonists attack. They are, however, divided on how to do this. Father Gabriel believes that violence is a direct crime against God. Mendoza decides to break his vows by militarily defending the mission. Against Father Gabriel's wishes, he teaches the Guarani the European art of war and takes up his sword.
When a joint Portuguese and Spanish force attacks, the mission is defended by Mendoza and the Guaraní men. They are no match for the military force. Mendoza is fatally wounded after the soldiers destroy a trap, allowing them to enter the village. The soldiers encounter Father Gabriel leading the Guaraní women and children singing in a religious procession. Father Gabriel carries a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament. Ignoring this, the Spanish commander orders the attack to continue. Father Gabriel, the rest of the priests and most of the Guaraní are gunned down. After Father Gabriel is shot, a Guarani man picks up the Blessed Sacrament and continues leading the procession. A handful of children escapes into the jungle.
In a final exchange between Altamirano and Hontar, Hontar laments, saying what has happened was unfortunate but inevitable: "We must work in the world; the world is thus." Altamirano rejoins: "No, thus have we made the world. Thus have I made it." Days later, a canoe carrying young children returns to the scene of the mission massacre and they salvage a few belongings. They set off up the river, going deeper into the jungle, with the thought that the events will remain in their memories. A final title declares that many priests have continued to fight for the rights of indigenous people into the present day. The text of John 1:5 is displayed: "The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness hath not overcome it."
- Robert De Niro as Captain Rodrigo Mendoza
- Jeremy Irons as Father Gabriel
- Ray McAnally as Cardinal Altamirano
- Aidan Quinn as Felipe Mendoza
- Cherie Lunghi as Carlotta
- Ronald Pickup as Hontar
- Chuck Low as Don Cabeza
- Fred Melamed provides Don Cabeza's voice (uncredited)
- Monirak Sisowath as Ibaye
- Liam Neeson as Father John Fielding
- Bercelio Moya as Native American Boy
- Sigifredo Ismare as Witch Doctor
- Asuncion Ontiveros as Native American Chief
- Alejandrino Moya as Chief's Lieutenant
- Daniel Berrigan as Sebastian
- Rolf Gray as Father Ralph
- Álvaro Guerrero as Jesuit
The Mission is based on events surrounding the Treaty of Madrid in 1750, in which Spain ceded part of Jesuit Paraguay to Portugal. A significant subtext is the impending suppression of the Jesuits, of which Father Gabriel is warned by the film's narrator, Cardinal Altamirano, who is himself a Jesuit. Altamirano, speaking in hindsight in 1758, corresponds to the actual Andalusian Jesuit Father Luis Altamirano, who was sent by Jesuit Superior General Ignacio Visconti to Paraguay in 1752 to transfer territory from Spain to Portugal. He oversaw the transfer of seven missions south and east of the Río Uruguay, that had been settled by Guaraní and Jesuits in the 17th century. As compensation, Spain promised each mission 4,000 pesos, or fewer than 1 peso for each of the approximately 30,000 Guaraní of the seven missions, while the cultivated lands, livestock, and buildings were estimated to be worth 7–16 million pesos. The film's climax is the Guaraní War of 1754–1756, during which historical Guaraní defended their homes against Spanish-Portuguese forces implementing the Treaty of Madrid. For the film, a re-creation was made of one of the seven missions, São Miguel das Missões.
Father Gabriel's character is loosely based on the life of Paraguayan saint and Jesuit Roque González de Santa Cruz. The story is taken from the book The Lost Cities of Paraguay by Father C. J. McNaspy, S.J., who was also a consultant on the film.
The waterfall setting of the film suggests the combination of these events with the story of older missions, founded between 1610 and 1630 on the Paranapanema River above the Guaíra Falls, from which Paulista slave raids forced Guaraní and Jesuits to flee in 1631. The battle at the end of the film evokes the eight-day Battle of Mbororé in 1641, a battle fought on land as well as in boats on rivers, in which the Jesuit-organised, firearm-equipped Guaraní forces stopped the Paulista raiders.
The historical Altamirano was not a cardinal sent by the Pope, but an emissary sent by the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Ignacio Visconti, to preserve the Jesuits in Europe in the face of attacks in Spain and Portugal.
Scholar James Schofield Saeger has many objections to the portrayal of the Guaraní in the movie. The film in his opinion is a "white European distortion of Native American reality." Native Americans are treated as "mission furniture." The film asserts that the Guaraní accepted Christianity immediately although in reality native religious beliefs persisted for several generations. He believes the movie glosses over the frequent resistance by Guaraní to Jesuit authority as witnessed by several revolts and the refusal of many Guaraní to live in the missions. The movie also portrays Jesuit-led armed resistance to Spanish attempts to force the missions to relocate in the 1750s. In reality the revolt was carried out by the Guaraní after the Jesuits had turned over control of the missions to the colonial governments of Spain and Portugal. A Jesuit ordered that the missions be abandoned and also ordered the Guaraní to cease making weapons. The Guaraní defied him and embarked on an armed, but ultimately unsuccessful revolt. However, several Jesuits remained in the missions with the Guaraní during their suppression by the colonials and the Spanish and Portuguese accused them of inciting the Guaraní to resist.
The film was mostly filmed in Colombia, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The tunnels of Fort Amherst in Kent were used as part of the monastery where Mendoza (Robert De Niro) sequesters himself after murdering his brother.
The soundtrack for The Mission was written by Ennio Morricone. Beginning with a liturgical piece ("On Earth as It Is in Heaven") which becomes the 'Spanish' theme, it moves quickly to the 'Guaraní' theme, which is written in a heavily native style and uses several indigenous instruments. Later, Morricone defines The Mission theme as a duet between the 'Spanish' and "Guaraní" themes. The soundtrack was recorded at CTS Lansdowne Studios in London.
Other themes throughout the movie include the 'Penance', 'Conquest', and 'Ave Maria Guaraní' themes. In the latter, a large choir of indigenous people sing a rendition of the "Ave Maria".
The film grossed $17.2 million at the US and international box office against a budget of £16.5 million, which at the time was the US equivalent of $25.4 million, making this film a commercial flop.
Goldcrest Films invested £15,130,000 in the film and received £12,250,000 in returns, netting Goldcrest a £2,880,000 loss.
The Mission received mixed to positive reviews from critics. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 66% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 29 reviews, with an average rating of 6.4/10. The site's critics consensus reads, "The Mission is a well-meaning epic given delicate heft by its sumptuous visuals and a standout score by Ennio Morricone, but its staid presentation never stirs an emotional investment in its characters." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 55 out of 100 based on 18 critic reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Awards and honours
- 1995: Vatican Film List (Religion)
- 2005: AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – #23
- 2007: Church Times' Top 50 Religious Films – #1
- 2013: ABC's Classic 100 Music in the Movies – #1
- Tied with Salvador.
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