The Mission (1986) is truly a masterpiece. Directed by Roland Joffé, the film takes place in the lush jungles of 18th-century South America, where a Jesuit priest named Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) founds a mission and works to convert the indigenous Guaraní. Under the protection of the Spanish empire and the Catholic Church, Father Gabriel attempts to shelter the Indians from Spanish and Portuguese slave hunters like Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert DeNiro).
When the territory is ceded to Portugal, the Jesuits are ordered to disband the mission. Father Gabriel, his fellow priests, and the Guaraní refuse to leave the place they have come to call home. Despite Father Gabriel’s insistence upon passive, nonviolent resistance, some take up arms against the Portuguese soldiers. The entire community is martyred, and the surviving Indian children return to the jungles.
Early in the film, Rodrigo Mendoza kills his own brother in a fit of rage. Paralyzed by guilt, he subjects himself to tortuous penance and, under the compassionate but stern guidance of Father Gabriel, finds a nobler calling as a priest. Faced with the mission's destruction, Rodrigo must decide whether or not break his vow and bear arms again.
Cardinal Altamirano (Ray McAnally), who effectively holds the fate of the Guaraní in his hands, loosely narrates the film. It is he who must advise the Pope whether or not to allow the Jesuit missions to continue. Altamirano cannot help but be impressed by Father Gabriel’s mission, where orderliness and the Indians’ passion for music are encouraged. At the same time, he feels the Portuguese empire’s pressure keenly.
The Mission’s combination of talented acting, skilled cinematography, incredible music, and the central theme of one’s character being put to the test create a poignant film that may very well bring the viewer to tears.
More information about The Mission:
• Won an Oscar in 1987 for Best Cinematography and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
• Received Oscar nominations for Best Art Direction/Set Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Music/Original Score, Best Picture
• See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mission_%28film%29 for more info.