Movie Review: The Mission (1986)

All I knew was there was a movie screening in class. I never thought I would be so deeply affected. It’s a movie called “The Mission” (1986) revolving around two Spanish Jesuit priests, Gabriel and Rodrigo, who reach out to the Guarani tribe in Paraguay.

I’ll try not to reveal the plot too much. The Jesuits converted the Guarani tribe and set up a mission station. However, due to the Treaty of Madrid, the Spanish cardinal Altamirano had decided to hand over the land to the Portuguese. The Jesuits try to convince the cardinal that the Portuguese merely want to use these tribes as slaves, but to no avail.

Against church orders, Gabriel and Rodrigo decide to stay with the village, though each taking a different path. Gabriel chose the path of non-violence while Rodrigo chose violence. In a seminal scene, Rodrigo informs Gabriel that he plans to fight back. Gabriel replies:

If might is right, then love has no place in the world. It may be so, it may be so. But I don’t have the strength to live in a world like that, Rodrigo.

That got me thinking: Does non-violence always mean love? Can’t violence be love too? I believe even violence can be acts of love in a “strange” way, a term used by Gabriel in the film. I understood Rodrigo’s use of violence to protect the ones he loved. In the end, both die as martyrs, with only a handful of village children surviving at the end of the massacre.

Has the Mission been lost? In the closing scenes, the remnant of children float away on a boat. But before they leave, a village girl retrieves a violin from the lake. We can tie this in to the opening scenes where Altamirano wrote:

The noble souls of these indians incline towards music. Indeed, many a violin played in the academies of Rome itself has been made by their nimble and gifted hands.

After watching the movie, I’m ashamed of my short-term mission trips that seems more like a holiday. Watching the Jesuits climbing up steep cliffs, setting up missions in a far off land and embracing martyrdom has fired me up for future mission work. The Jesuits were truly the pioneers in spreading the Gospel to the utmost ends of the earth.

I will leave you with a last quote from the last scene. Altamirano sent a report to his superior that hauntingly summed up the impact of Jesuit martyrs like Gabriel and Rodrigo:

So, your Holiness, now your priests are dead, and I am left alive. But in truth it is I who am dead, and they who live. For as always, your Holiness, the spirit of the dead will survive in the memory of the living.


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