125 Min. | Adventure – Drama – History | September 1986
IMDB Rating: 7.5
Director: Roland Joffe
Staring: Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Ray McAnally
The Mission Review: It’s a sad fact of life that hunter gatherer cultures even when slavery is not in the mix will always give way to societies higher up on the sociological scale. No one says its right, it just is. The Mission deals with the tragedy of such a situation in South America in the 18th century. Slavery was in the mix here however, practiced in the open by the Portugese and winked at by the Spanish where their king’s writ ran. The area were concerned with in South America in 1758 is that area of the Amazon headwaters where the boundary between Brazil and Peru is not really to clear. Christianity was a both a savior and destroyer of animist Indian tribes back then in both American continents. It certainly did have as a message that their culture and beliefs were altogether wrong and have to change. But there are also numerous recorded incidents where priests and we are talking about the Catholic Church here put their lives and reputations on the line to defend these primitive societies from the evils of the civilization they were bringing.
Such an admirable priest is Jeremy Irons in The Mission. He’s aided and abetted by Robert DeNiro a former slaver who became a monk, renouncing civilization after killing his brother Aidan Quinn in a fight over a woman. The tribe they are working with and actually gaining trust and even some converts has been earmarked to be captured and used as slave labor over in Portugese territory. The Mission is told in flashback as Cardinal Ray McAnally is writing a report to the Pope of what is happening in South America. And in many ways what is still happening there. The Mission got seven Oscar nominations including best picture and won the Oscar in 1986 for best cinematography. The performances are some of the best that all the principal players have ever given on screen. The story is a tragic one, but with a message of hope that there are indeed people like Irons and DeNiro for whom the positive aspects of their religion is not just platitudes.
The mercenaries and profiters try and comfort the Viceroy at the end of the picture by reaffirming that, “This is the way it has to be. So is the world made.” To which the Viceroy responds, “No, So have we made the world.” Even after 300 years, somethings never change. That is why The Mission still carries such profound meaning. The best way to see The Mission is back to back with At Play In The Fields Of The Lord which is a 20th century look at the same problem. Both films are among the best made in the past 30 years.