The Mission is a 1986 British film about the experiences of a Jesuit missionary in eighteenth century South America. The film was written by Robert Bolt and directed by Roland Joffé.
The film is set during the Jesuit Reductions, a program by which Jesuit
missionaries set up missions independent of the Spanish
state to teach Christianity
to the natives. It tells the story
of a Spanish Jesuit priest, Father Gabriel
(Jeremy Irons), who enters the South American jungle to build a mission and convert a community of Guaraní Indians to Christianity.
He is later joined by a reformed Portuguese mercenary, Rodrigo Mendoza
(Robert De Niro), who sees the Jesuit mission as a sanctuary and a place of
forgiveness for the murder of his brother.
Mendoza and Gabriel try to defend the community against the cruelty of Portuguese colonials (who are trying to enslave the Guaraní under
the new powers granted by the Treaty of Madrid), Gabriel by nonviolent means and Mendoza by
means of his military training. The mission, which was once under Spanish
protection, has been handed over to the Portuguese while the Vatican (represented by Papal emissary Altamirano) has
ordered the Jesuits to withdraw from the territory above the falls.
Eventually, a combined Spanish and Portuguese force attacks the mission and,
failing to see the simple life of the Guarani as anything but threatening
(contrary to Father Gabriel and Mendoza), kill many of them as well as all the
priests. Father Gabriel is presiding over Benediction with the
Guaraní women and children when he and several of the Guaranís are shot down,
while Father Fielding (Liam
Neeson), who helps lead an attack on the enemy's boats, is shot dead.
Mendoza dies after abandoning an opportunity to spring a trap on the attackers
to save Guaraní children on a bridge. This presumably provides the redemption he
had been searching for.
Cabeza and Hontar, the Spanish and Portuguese authorities behind the attack,
try to convince the Cardinal that the massacre was justified; the Cardinal feels
otherwise. After cutting to a scene of surviving Guaraní children salvaging
supplies from the burned mission and a broken violin from the river sailing away
on a canoe, the film ends with the Cardinal simply staring determinedly at the
The Mission is based on events surrounding the Treaty
of Madrid in 1750, in which Spain ceded part of Jesuit Paraguay to Portugal. The movie's
narrator, "Altamirano", speaking in hindsight in 1758, corresponds to the actual
Andalusian Jesuit Father Luis
Altamirano, who had been 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 Guaranis
and Jesuits in the 1600s. As compensation, Spain had promised each mission 4,000
pesos, or fewer than 1 peso for each of the circa 30,000 Guaranis of the seven
missions, while the cultivated lands, livestock, and buildings were estimated to
be worth 7-16 million pesos. The movie's climax is the Guarani War of 1754-1756, during which historical
Guaranis defended their homes against Spanish-Portuguese forces implementing the
Treaty of Madrid. For the movie, a re-creation was made of one of the seven
missions, São Miguel das Missões.
The waterfall setting of the movie suggests the combination of these events
with the story of older missions, founded between 1610-1630 on the Río Paranapanemá above the Guairá
Falls, from which Paulista slave raids forced Guaranis and Jesuits
to flee in 1631. The battle at the end of the movie evokes the 8-day battle
of Mboboré in 1641, a battle fought on land as well as in boats on rivers,
in which the Jesuit-organized, firearm-equipped Guarani forces stopped the
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