“The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” – Albert Einstein
Human nature is often described of being made up of characteristics that are angelic and demonic at the same time. In an average individual’s life there is constant struggle between the two, and each of us may find being pushed or pulled to one of those sides, making us alternately paragons of virtue and goodness, or at other times devils intent on doing the worst possible to other people, and not uncommonly to ourselves also.
For Movie Monday today I am looking at “The Mission”, the classic 1986 Roland Joffé film that looks at this dichotomous nature of the human psyche and examines the question: “What consequences do my actions have, on me as well as on other people?” It stars Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons and Ray McAnally.
It is a beautiful movie, shot lushly on location in the jungles of Argentina and Colombia (“The Mission” won the Oscar for Best Cinematography in 1986). It is set in 18th century Amazonia as the European colonial empire moves into the unexploited jungle. The Spanish Jesuits are the first Europeans on the scene, trying to develop a relationship with the native Indians. The Portuguese, to whom the colony is ceded to by Spain, are the imperialist powers that want to enslave the Indians and exploit the jungle. The canvas is ready to be painted with the theme of humanity versus politics, and faith versus cynicism.
The story revolves around Father Gabriel who ascends the mountains of Brazil to bring Christianity to the natives. He has success and creates a peaceful community based on Christian values. Mendoza, a slaver, kills his brother in a fit of rage, and only Gabriel’s guidance prevents his suicide. Gabriel brings Mendoza to work at his mission with the natives, and Mendoza finds peace, thinking about becoming a priest. When the Portuguese come in, Mendoza organises a resistance movement amongst the natives, who try to defend themselves against the imperialistic hordes. The ending is predictable, but nevertheless does not detract from the film, it rather heightens the tragedy.
The music score by Ennio Morricone is absolutely amazing and reason enough to watch the film, if for nothing else. If you have not seen the movie, nor heard the soundtrack, here is the magnificent oboe theme to whet your appetite.
The film has been accused of being thin on the story line, having less than optimal character development and an ending that drags. To me personally, these are minor points and the themes of the movie, my own knowledge of history, imagination and intelligence are enough to gloss over any minor flaws. Overall, this is a movie that is confronting, controversial, tragic, powerful and immensely melancholy. Well worth seeing!