Forces Beyond All Control Clash in the Jungle
One man sought redemption, the other sought parity for the weak, powerless. Together they found themselves working for the Lord against those who were called to represent Him - the Holy Catholic Church. In the end two of the three knew God. The other was irretrievably lost.
"The Mission" was not as much a film about the delivery of God to the primitive natives of the Paraguayan rain forest as it was, primarily, a mission to discover the truth that guides men's souls. Father Gabriel, played by Jeremy Irons, the Jesuit Priest who settled one of the remote Spanish Missions in this new South American land, was committed in his quest to bring the Passion of the Christ to these Guarani people.
The settlement that Father Gabriel shepherded was above the magnificent falls of these foothills to the Great Andes Mountains, and his commitment was impeccable. Father Gabriel's nemesis and especially that of the Guarani was Rodrigo Mendoza, portrayed by Robert De Niro, who was not interested in the souls of men, but their bodies for work. He was a slave trader and hunted the Guarani above the great falls.
Both these men lived entirely different lives, but yet, they were destined to meet in a climactic burst where each would tread very different, and yet similar paths to each of their separate conclusions. The Papacy was on its own separate path, in part, due to the Treaty of Madrid, 1752, which stipulated that Spain cede their imperial power in Jesuit Paraguay to Portugal.
The voice for the Papacy, which was characteristically in league with whom was mighty of that day, was a former Jesuit, and now emissary for the Holy Catholic Church, Luis Altamirano, played by Ray McAnally. The character of Emissary Altamiro also spoke as narrator for the film allowing a first person perspective in hindsight of the events that shaped the film's conclusion, which gave a responsible depiction of actual events of actual people of that day: Altamirano actually existed in this capacity, and Father Gabriel was loosely based on Paraguayan Saint Roque González de Santa Cruz. The Guarani War 1754-56 presented another element of dimension to the film that brought the final element of dramatic tension to the film's conclusion.
"The Mission," directed by Roland Joffé, with original story and screenplay by Robert Bolt, used 2 hours and 5 minutes to express his very human theme of unconditional love and redemption. The story is structured to exhibit all that is good within Man, the perfect love that is Christ's gift to Man, but without the political innuendo and abject cruelty that became the Catholic Church. The film represents that firm reality all too well.
The acting within the film is purposeful in its depiction of the period, and its approach to the nature of raw human emotion. Jeremy Irons' Father Gabriel is stellar in his depiction of Man's application of Christ's love to the extent of sainthood. Robert De Niro is in his prime in this film, and reminds the audience just how good an actor he has always been. His Mendoza was the manifestation of cruel - possibly an allegorical representation of the Holy Catholic Church. His transformation into the compassionate Mendoza stripped away the years of structured inhumanity to the good Catholic boy, once again pure, washed clean by Christ's love. The film was most allegorical in this context. Liam Neeson also had a small but important role as a Jesuit brother, Fielding. It is always gratifying to see actors in small roles, when they are young, grow into actors who later perform in lead roles.
To further add dimension to this junior classic, the sound tract by legend Ennio Morricone was as important to the film as any other component and well set the mood for certain scenes, even to the extent of transitioning the Father Gabriel, the wandering missioner above the great falls to the spiritual leader and community father of, what would become, his tribe of Guarani people. Sitting in a tranquil brook, Father Gabriel senses that he is being watched by a hunting party of the Guarani. Rather than becoming the hunted, Father Gabriel plays the unassisted notes of one of Ennio's compositions - I believe it was a strain of "Gabriel's Oboe" - and he simply, and immediately, quells their collective aggressive instincts. The music is so good: The scene is as believable as it is hauntingly beautiful.
Another essential ingredient to this fine film was the cinematography, which Cinematographer Chris Menges won an Oscar for in 1987. Whenever a film must be filmed in such a difficult location, the combination of exotically beautiful geography must be blended with the actions of the actors, to the point of it becoming possibly the strongest character within the film. Chris Menges accomplished this.
The film as a whole was a fine accomplishment for all who worked to bring this story of redemption and perfect love. It will be remembered.
Rated PG. Released in Theaters on October 31, 1986.
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