Film / The Mission

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"Your Holiness, I write to you in this year of Our Lord 1758 from the southern continent of the Americas, from the town of Asunción, in the Province of La Plata, two weeks march from the great mission of San Miguel. These missions have provided a refuge for the Indians against the worst depredations of the settlers and have earned much resentment because of it. 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. It was from these missions the Jesuit fathers carried the word of God to the high and undiscovered plateau to those Indians still existing in their natural state, and received in return martyrdom."
Cardinal Altamirano

The Mission is a 1986 British drama film starring Jeremy Irons, Robert De Niro, Liam Neeson, Ray McAnally, Aidan Quinn and Cherie Lunghi.

Jesuit priest Father Gabriel (Irons) goes to South America for missionary work, hoping to convert some natives to Christianity. He builds a mission (hence the name of the movie), and is joined by Rodrigo Mendoza (De Niro), a former slave trader seeking redemption.

When the Spanish government sells the territory to Portugal, the Portuguese government wants to capture the natives for slave labor. Mendoza and Gabriel oppose this and resolve to defend the mission, though disagree on how to accomplish the task.

The film was written by Robert Bolt and directed by Roland Joffé.


This film provides examples of the following:

  • Actual Pacifist: Father Gabriel refuses to fight back physically against the Portuguese, unlike Mendoza.
  • The Atoner: Mendoza. He killed his younger brother in a fit of jealousy for sleeping and getting infatuated with his bride, and gets depressed. As a form of penitence, Mendoza packs a bag of armory and weapons, symbolising his guilt, and climbs to get to father Gabriel's mission, who proposed him to do so. When he finally arrives, a Guaraní man frees him from the load and Mendoza starts to shed tears, finally having his pardon over his crime.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Hontar and Cabeza conquer the Guaraní territories for the Crowns of Spain and Portugal at a very high cost, much to Altamirano's horror.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Cabeza, the hot blooded and bald Spaniard, and Hontar, the cold and calculating Portuguese, who represent to interests of their crown countries in the Guaraní territories.
  • Book Ends: The film starts with Altamirano staring at the audience as he is writing the letter for His Holiness and the post-credits scene has him staring again at the audience as soon as he finishes his letter.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: The Jesuits and the Guarani, in the end.
  • Downer Ending: Gabriel, Mendoza, Fielding, and most of the Guaraní are killed by the Portuguese strike force. However, the ending quote suggests all is not lost.
    "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." - John 1:5
  • Flynning: Averted in the duel between Rodrigo and his brother, which lasts only a few seconds, and portrays real techniques in rapier fencing (though they use samllswords) like using a knife (usually it was a dagger) in the left hand.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Cardinal Altamirano makes the decision he does in order to prevent the suppression of the Society of Jesus. Historically, the Jesuits were suppressed anyway just a few years later.
  • Good Shepherd: Father Gabriel is about as saintly as they come.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Rodrigo Mendoza is a slaver who undergoes penance and eventually dies protecting those he had hurt in the past.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Cabeza and Hontar, the Spanish and Portuguese governors, try to justify their actions this way. Cardinal Altamirano (who is clearly guilt ridden after condemning the missionaries) doesn't buy it.
  • Inevitable Waterfall: The most famous shot from the movie is of a priest being tied to a cross and being sent downriver to Iguazu Falls.
  • Ordered Apology: Rodrigo is ordered to deliver an apology to Governor Cabeza by his Jesuit brothers after publicly calling him out on his lies. He does so, but it's executed with such over-the-top humility that it's clear Rodrigo is just taking the piss. Cabeza grudgingly accepts the "apology".
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Most of the main characters are either priests or convert at some point and often their faith lead to moments of badassery such as Mendoza climbing up a mountain with a coffin full of armor and weapons tied to him.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Mendoza's ultimate fate.
  • Redemption Quest
  • Scenery Porn: The winner of the Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 1987, no less! Iguazu Falls, the mission of San Miguel... All beautifully shot in its magnificency and colors. As told by Altamirano in his narration, he was so truly astonished by its beauty and sad that he compared the destruction of the mission of San Miguel with a surgeon cutting off an important limb.
  • Seldom-Seen Species: The choir boy has a pet marmoset in a time when the usual South American monkey was either a capuchin monkey or a squirrel monkey. The Guaraní are seen hunting a collared peccary, which could easily be mistaken as a wild hog or pig for common viewers, and offer it to Mendoza to kill it, but he refuses. Also, Hontar's first scene has him embracing his exotic pet, a three-toed sloth, who weren't as popular as in the Internet days, describing it as a fascinating creature.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: A triumphant choral piece (called "Vita Nostra" in the soundtrack) plays when the Guarani are building their church - and when they attack the Portuguese at the end despite certain to lose. Or perhaps not dissonant since they're Doomed Moral Victors.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: The Cardinal has a choice between pulling support for the Guaraní, dooming them, or letting the Catholic Church be condemned. He chooses the former. Also counts as a Sadistic Choice; whatever the Cardinal decides, one group is going to end up being persecuted; the natives, or the Jesuits.
  • Who Dares?: Don Cabeza doesn't take kindly to Mendoza calling him out on his lies:
    Cabeza: I cannot and will not accept a challenge from a priest! His cloth protects him!
    Mendoza: My cloth protects you!


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