Movie Review: The Mission

TheMissionby Brad Nelson   4/23/14
The De Niro marathon continues with The Mission…a beautiful and depressing film of Jesuits, natives, huge waterfalls, dense jungles, and the horrible Portuguese.

I found the first half of this movie to be intriguing. Jeremy Irons plays a Spanish Jesuit (with a thick English accent, so I guess I came down too hard on Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves). I’ve always liked Irons, although I don’t know why. I even made it all the way through Brideshead Revisited. But I can’t think of any particularly stunning performances by him, including this one where he Mr. Rogers his way through this film. His most notable acting moment might have been as the voice of Scar in Lion King. And he was an interesting villain in the otherwise mediocre movie, Die Hard: With a Vengeance.

This isn’t one of De Niro’s best performances either. The actors really aren’t given much material to sink their teeth into. But De Niro does carry the first half of this movie on his shoulders as he is converted from a slaver to a Jesuit priest. But even this transition happens too fast. But there is a good scene with Irons visiting De Niro in De Niro’s self-imposed cell as he tries to help him put his life together after a tragic event.

De Niro then joins the Order and pays penance by dragging his heavy bundle of armor through the rivers and jungle and back to the mission that Irons is building high atop an escarpment. This is perhaps the film’s best moment.

But after that, the movie doesn’t have all that much to offer. The Portuguese are, because of treaty with the Spanish, acquiring the territory that the mission is built upon. And then it inevitably becomes a predictable movie about martyrs facing down heavily-armed soldiers. Guess who wins. There’s nothing much cheery or light in this one, for sure. It almost makes Apocalypto seem like a comedy.

But the cinematography and score are stupendous. You’ll want to run out and book a trip with your travel agent to see those majestic cliffs and waterfalls in wherever-the-hell South America

It’s heartbreaking to see the natives used so badly. But modern audiences have an interesting, perhaps stilted, perspective, as evinced by this one poster at IMDB.com:

This movie was a total glorification of the cocept of “The White Man’s Burden.” This was a concept that was born around the age of exploration that essentially said that it was the white man’s responsibility to convert everyone to Christianity in order to save their souls. I don’t really need to point out that this is one of the most disgustingly arrogant and racist concepts in history, basically stating that all non-Christians are heathens and are all going to hell unless they convert to the words of Jesus. Granted, I know that was a different time, but why in 1986 were we still glorifying this concept. In this film, you have these Jesuits who just come into this tribe, force the words of christianity on them, have them build churches and abandon their old ways and beliefs, because their old beliefs obviously weren’t good enough. And the film makes it look so riteous and good.

There is little doubt that “the white man’s burden” has been replaced with “the white man’s guilt.” I don’t know how true-to-life this movie is, but it’s surely true that Christians built missions all over the savage world and didn’t always have to strong-arm the natives to come worship and take part in what we would consider a civilized life.

But the modern viewer says, “Hey, there’s nothing superior about indoor plumbing, life-saving medicine, and not eating your neighbors for lunch.” Their only perspective is “Who are we to say that we are better?” Well, clearly in this movie, the natives voted with their feet. They enjoyed the material and spiritual enhancements offered by this Jesuit mission, particularly because it offered some refuge from the European slave traders.

And it’s an odd perspective for anyone on the Left to have, for aren’t the rest of us simply the ignorant savages to be civilized by our Progressive betters?

It must be said about this movie that both De Niro and Irons are in their prime. Although I found Irons to be a little dull and unanimated, he has that golden voice. And De Niro, although robbed of his trademark smirk and wrinkle-eyed squint in this more serious role, he’s, well, De Niro. And with his beard and hair he looks a bit like Jesus himself.

De Niro is also charming in his interaction with the natives, an element of the movie that could have been played up more. But unfortunately the movie gets bogged down by the politics behind the scenes that occur elsewhere that involve a cardinal and some very nasty Portuguese. The pacing of this movie is not particularly good. But it does have star power.

And like Bananarama says:

A walk in the park can become a bad dream
People are staring and following me
This is my only escape from it all
Watching a film or a face on the wall

Robert De Niro’s waiting
Talking Italian (Talking Italian)

Or perhaps Spanish. • (1644 views)

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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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9 Responses to Movie Review: The Mission

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    “But the cinematography and score are stupendous.”

    That is why this film must be seen on a large screen and with surround-sound. It is simply stunning. To me, the acting is just a backdrop for the cinematography and score. An excuse for filming those beautiful scenes, if you will.

    The commentator from IMDB.com spouts more of the uninformed nonsense which one, so often, encounters in the USA today. He shows his stupidity and bias when he asks “but why in 1986 were we still glorifying this concept.” What an ass. This is the typical Leftist drivel which is the result of a mindset that sees everything, even art, as political. Personally, I do not think the waterfalls and jungle have a view on “the White Man’s Burden” or even on the colonization of South America.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      That is why this film must be seen on a large screen and with surround-sound. It is simply stunning.

      I watched it in high definition and sat close to a 32″ screen with fairly good speakers. The screen was sharper than typically you get in a theatre although I’ll admit the sound in such a theatre is probably superior.

      Yes, that commenter was an ass. His opinion is formed by the comic book strains of Cultural Marxism. The real world is more complicated. If a movie wanted to delve into the sins of the colonials — and they are legion — they should also delve into the truly horrific practices of many of these “noble savages.” As a wise man once told me, whatever moral shortcomings that the technologically advanced West had, they were guaranteed to replace the technologically feeble, if only because the practices of the latter were so often truly barbaric.

      Also, a look at the real world might point out that these Jesuits — rightly or wrongly — were trying to help the native peoples. And they did help them.

      Unfortunately, this “help” has today been turned by the Jesuits (and others) full circle with their liberation theology which holds to the Cultural Marxist line that these native peoples don’t need outsiders. The job of Christians now, in their view, is to save them from the evil capitalists who only want to exploit them.

      And to some extent, that’s fine. But this Kindergarten point of view has often left these peoples completely at the mercy of the Hugo Chavez’s of the world. At some point, we have to slough off our white guilt and admit that there are objectively better ways of living, despite the race or religion of any people. That doesn’t mean it should be forced on them. But we should try to regain some cultural confidence instead of this endless childish hand-wringing that does nothing more than let the real thugs of the world gain control.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        “if only because the practices of the latter were so often truly barbaric.”

        This is a point which grievance mongers are careful to avoid. The aboriginals who occupied the Western Hemisphere were stone age peoples whose cultures were equally primitive. They, more often than not, fought each other for land, hunting grounds and power. Often, they did this in quite barbaric and disgusting ways. The Aztecs made mass sacrifices of their captured opponents in such nice ways as slitting through the subject’s upper abdomen just below the sternum, sticking their hands in the gap and pulling the subject’s beating heart out through the cut. And dare I say it? They enslaved people. It is a little advertised fact that Cortez could, very likely, not have conquered the Aztecs without the help of the tribes who had been abused by the Aztecs.

        The Comanches were another sensitive group who made a fetish of coming up with different ways to torture their various victims in order to keep them alive for hours, if not, longer, in order to enjoy the art.

        Unfortunately for these unspoiled primitives, they ran up against a group who were a few thousand years ahead of them technologically. And while there were plenty of cruel Spaniards, Portuguese, etc, their cultures did not worship mass human sacrifice or fetishistic torture. But of course, our contemporary divas of diversity would simple say that all cultures are equal and the nasty Europeans should have not interfered in those pristine societies.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          In William Forstchen’s Lost Regiment series, he has a scene in which a scouting expedition in a balloon (this is War of the Rebellion technology) is photographing their cannibalistic enemies’ feast so that no one later can claim that these accusations weren’t really true (which may have been a bit anachronistic).

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Well said, Mr. Kung. And Mr. Dalrymple would asi note the goofy romantic notions regard the noble savage that are widely held.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    I don’t know if this is what the movie deals with, but Spanish Jesuits set up socialistic missions among the Guarani Indians, at least some of which later had to be turned over to the Portuguese (what later became Brazil). Some of the missions (or maybe it’s where they moved after losing their original locations) are in what is now the Argentine province of Misiones (which they acquired from Paraguay after the War of the Triple Alliance, in which Francisco Solano Lopez of Paraguay attacked Brazil in an unsuccessful attempt to intervene in a Uruguyan civil war, and then attacked Argentina). Guarani and Spanish are the two national languages in Paraguay.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I don’t know if this is what the movie deals with, but Spanish Jesuits set up socialistic missions among the Guarani Indians

      From what I understand, Timothy. That’s true. One of the commenters over at IMDB said:

      But I don’t think this film works an apology for imperialism. It is true that the Jesuit missionaries, from the early 1600s to the 1760s, did actively protect the Guaraní from the depredations of the slave trade, and that the economic production in the mission communities was operated collectively, without owners, and with the Guaraní free to use their own language and engage in other traditional cultural practices.

      The good news is that the Jesuits offered them material and spiritual help and seemed to respect the natives. The bad news is that they brought Communism to South America.

      The current Pope isn’t a Jesuit, but I think he’s imbibed the same Cultural Marxist strains that all this “respect” has morphed into today. His default orientation seems to be a common one, that for the native peoples their struggle is not with their own backwardness or immoral ways. Their struggle is with the evil capitalists.

      There isn’t much Christ in that point of view. But then it doesn’t exactly surprise me anymore to see people abandon the traditional views of the West to pick up some comic-book-level simplistic substitute. It’s as if all true complexity has been wrung out of any and all issues. That is, people have lost the ability to think. They’re driven more by surface-level emotions mixed with bumper-sticker feel-good-isms.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        A good point about the Jesuits introducing communism. It was this state loyalty by the Guarani that enabled Lopez to commit national suicide in 1864-5.

  3. faba calculo says:

    Have to agree here. In my more religious days, I saw this film. I was so wowed by it that it was briefly my favorite film of all time. The first half was totally overwhelming, with the missionaries willingness to risk his life for his work plus the amazing and amazingly simple take on repentance and forgiveness when Deniro is caught in his climb up the falls by the burden of the bag of his old armor (signifying his old life) and one of the natives he used to target for enslavement cuts him free. Very Pilgrim’s Progress!

    Unfortunately, I later got my parents to watch it, and I realized that, from the cutting of the burden on, the movie kind of goes flat.

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