One of the Vatican’s favorite films is 1986’s The Mission. It was one of 15 films selected by the Catholic hierarchy in 1995 for its list of recommended religion films. (Yes, the Pope released a recommended film list in 1995.)
The Mission is an unsurprising inclusion. It features Jesuit heroes challenging evil colonists on behalf of oppressed natives. The film is suffused with Catholic themes and champions church authority over secular authority. The Vatican would be dense to not see the movie as good propaganda for the Church.
It is a good film, with epic visuals and a stirring score from Ennio Morricone. They don’t make quality historical epics anymore, which is why The Mission stands up well to the test of time. Many Catholics would certainly like it for its message alone, but identitarians, regardless of their faith, should not. Despite its qualities, the film offers an anti-white message: Natives good, whites bad. The only good whites are those who serve and die for non-whites. Whites are just out for plunder and they should’ve never come to the New World.
The film takes place in 18th-century South America in the middle of a dispute between Spain, Portugal, and the Church over who controls mission land.
The film begins with a scene of native savagery. Guarani tribesmen tie a Jesuit missionary to a cross and send him down the river to meet his eventual death via waterfall. The news disturbs Father Gabriel (played by Jeremy Irons). He sent the doomed priest to convert the Guarani. Gabriel believes the natives are full of music and God, and he will not accept this cruel death as a genuine sign of resistance against the faith. So he travels to the remote location where the tribesmen dwell to convert them himself. He climbs up the Iguazu Falls to reach their remote location. He greets them with music, assembling a flute to play for them.
The tribesmen gather around him, amazed by his music. One elder takes the flute and breaks it. This does not discourage Gabriel, who waits until another villager picks up the flute, puts it back together, and hands it back to the priest. The Guarani see Gabriel as a peaceful outsider and welcome him to the tribe. He eventually evangelizes the tribe and comes to adore them.
But they are threatened by other Europeans. Slaver Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert DeNiro) preys on the tribe for his trade. During a raid, Father Gabriel protects the villagers from capture. He exhorts Mendoza that he’s building a mission in this remote area and the Jesuits are making Christians of these backward natives. Mendoza simply replies: “If you have the time.”
Mendoza delivers his human cargo to Spanish governor Don Cabeza. He reports that the Jesuits have a mission in the area where he hunts for slaves. The Spanish are not allowed to engage in the slave trade, especially in areas governed by Jesuit missions. Cabeza takes note of it and pays Mendoza a handsome fee.
But not all is well with Mendoza. He comes home to find the woman he loves prefers his brother. The lady demands that Rodrigo will not retaliate against his brother, but he can’t help himself. The two fight in public, with Mendoza fatally stabbing his own flesh and blood. He realizes the grave offense he committed and confines himself to a cell for several months. Father Gabriel is requested to deliver penance to the disconsolate slaver. Mendoza argues that there is no penance hard enough for him. Gabriel dares him to try, which the penitent accepts.
The penance requires Mendoza to lug around his military equipment — shields, helmets, swords — around the jungle rivers. He scales height and cliffs while dragging along his past sins. At many times, the equipment net nearly drags Mendoza to his death, prompting one Jesuit (played by a young Liam Neeson), to cut the rope to the heavy load. Mendoza refuses to accept the early release and continues to carry the burden. The monks tell Gabriel that they believe Mendoza has fulfilled his penance, but the lead Jesuit disagrees. He says neither he nor the penitent feels that the slaver has paid his debt.
Mendoza finds his salvation with the Guarani. In the film, the Guarani are played by actual locals. These aren’t good-looking Mestizos with Caucasian features. They sport primitive tattoos, hairstyles, missing teeth, simple loincloths, and other very ugly features. Unlike the main characters, they don’t speak English, further exoticizing them to the viewers. It’s understandable why white colonists would see these people as fundamentally alien from themselves. But Gabriel and the Jesuits see them as good Christians who are superior to the Europeans.
Gabriel takes his penitent slave trader to his beloved savages and awaits their judgment. Recognizing the Spaniard as their oppressor, one Guarani rushes at Mendoza with a knife. He puts it to his throat, which draws no reaction from the morose Mendoza. He accepts whatever penalty is given. But the tribesman instead cuts off his burden and throws it into the river. Mendoza sobs uncontrollably at this act of forgiveness, which brings joy to Jesuits and Guarani alike.
Mendoza quickly learns to love those he once captured and enslaved. He works on the mission and eventually joins the Jesuits, submitting unquestionably to Gabriel’s authority. Another change is that he now refuses to kill any creature. When the villagers hunt down and capture a wild pig, the tribesmen offer Mendoza the spear to slay it. He refuses, indicating he’s left his old self completely behind.
Viewers will soon learn that that’s not entirely true.
Gabriel and the Jesuits are called back to civilization to decide their jurisdiction over mission territory. The Portuguese and Spanish have agreed to a redrawn map that puts the Jesuit missions in Portuguese territory, giving free rein to the slave trade. But the Jesuits do have one hope: the Church sends Cardinal Altamirano to settle the dispute between the Church and secular authorities. The Jesuits try to persuade Altamirano that the natives are just like the colonists. They showcase a Guarani boy who sings sacred music in the European style as part of their argument. Don Cabeza dismisses this as nothing more than mimicry and says the natives are closer to beasts than to men. But he insists that no slave trade occurs in Spanish land.
That draws a strong rebuke from his former slave hunter, Mendoza. He calls him a liar. This is a severe offense in the Spanish colonies and Cabeza demands an apology. The Cardinal and Gabriel impress upon the hard-headed Mendoza he must apologize, even though he spoke the truth. Mendoza reluctantly submits and issues a groveling apology before the court audience.
But Mendoza’s insolence makes a strong impression on the secular authorities. Altamirano warns Gabriel that the courts of Europe want to suppress the Jesuit order over their disregard for the laws of men. (Europe did suppress the Jesuits later on in the 18th century.) The cardinal tells his subordinate that he must get a rein on his monks or else the entire order may perish. The Spanish and Portuguese deliver the same message to the cardinal, who feels he must choose to save either the Jesuit order in the eyes of secular rulers or save the mission from the rapacious hands of the colonists.
Altamirano visits the missions and is stunned by the native beauty. The cardinal’s coterie first visits São Miguel das Missões, an extravagantly built mission where hundreds of natives live. The cardinal is astounded by the beauty of the mission, which was built with the creativity of Europeans. But the film implies it was the work of the natives. The Guarani sing sacred choral music to the cardinal as he looks at the grand altar of the mission. He’s also impressed by the work the Indians do, which all goes to the Church and not to the secular authorities. Mendoza touts how the Guarani do the work without compulsion, unlike the plantation run by Europeans outside of the church. The film portrays the Guarani as perfect little angels on the mission, always dressed in white and ready to sing church music. They stand and plead for the cardinal to save them. It would be like an evil man killing kittens to allow the Portuguese to take over. These are noble and innocent savages.
Altamirano is torn over what to do, but the Portuguese essentially give him no choice: hand over the missions, or the Jesuits get suppressed. The cardinal decides on the former, but he first visits Gabriel’s more low-budget mission. The cardinal arrives in the deep jungles to witness the “simple beauty” of the rugged mission. Once again, he is greeted by little innocent natives who just want to sing church music to him. But the cardinal doesn’t budge from his decision. He orders Father Gabriel to tell the natives that they must leave the mission because God wills it. The innocent Guarani cannot accept the reasoning and they claim that God brought them there. They lose some of their faith in the order and their children believe the devil resides in the jungle. The devil is, of course, meant to be the white man.
The cardinal orders the Jesuits to leave the mission or face excommunication. Gabriel is torn over what to do, but he decides to remain with his subjects. Mendoza and the other monks also make the same decision, but they also want to fight. The former mercenary is reacquainted with his past when a young Indian finds his sword and delivers it to him. Gabriel strongly opposes Mendoza’s plan, telling him he would betray his oath if he dies with blood on his hands. But Mendoza decides to go to war anyway.
The Spanish and Portuguese are depicted as ransacking the São Miguel das Missões and committing cruel acts against the natives. They humiliate a Jesuit and force him into slavery. They gather up all the babies to kill them. And the whites all take pleasure in their cruelty.
Gabriel’s Guarani are not going to go down without a fight. Mendoza first leads his charges on a sneak attack of the Portuguese-Spanish expedition to steal gunpowder. He murders an awakened guard, an act that shows he’s back to his old ways — but now for “good!”
Mendoza devises an ambush for the coming Europeans while Gabriel plans a mass for the Guarani. The natives deal severe losses to the invading army to the tune of upbeat orchestral music. But the Europeans soon overwhelm them and arrive at the village just in time for the mass. Mendoza tries to set off an improvised bomb against the invaders, but the force defuses it and kills him. Gabriel performs the mass as the invaders engage in destruction. For a brief moment, the Spanish and Portuguese are enraptured by it. But then they return to their cruelty. The commander directs his Indian allies to fire burning arrows on the straw huts and his men to fire their muskets on the defenseless crowd. Gabriel leads a procession as the invaders fire cannons and shoot at the women and children. He carries a monstrance in front. This act does not persuade the Europeans to stop the slaughter as they continue to mow down the crowd. Eventually, Gabriel is gunned down, but a villager picks up the monstrance and leads the procession on.
The whole scene is over-the-top. Children cry as they are shot. We see close-up shots of their wounds and pain. The Europeans are depicted as godless monsters; true savages who will happily murder women and children. This is the image of European settlement The Mission wishes to convey.
The cardinal feels tremendous guilt over the slaughter and admonishes the Portuguese and Spanish authorities for their excess. He narrates his envy of Gabriel and the Jesuits. He feels dead inside, while he says that they receive the gift of eternal life through their sacrifice. The film ends with Guarani children escaping from the ruined village and taking Christian artifacts with them. The screen then shows explicitly anti-white text. “The Indians of South America are still engaged in a struggle for their land and their culture. Many of the priests who, inspired by faith and love, continue to support the rights of the Indians for justice, do so with their lives.”
The film is loosely based on real events. The Guarani did revolt against the transfer of their lands from Jesuit protection to Portuguese control and the Jesuits sided with the Indians. But it was a very lopsided conflict. The one major battle of the Guarani war resulted in only 4 dead Europeans while over 1500 Indians were slain. The Jesuits were successful in organizing armed resistance against European incursions in the 17th century, but not so much in the 18th. It’s no wonder that European courts wanted to suppress the order when they were leading rebellions against white settlement in the New World.
As I’ve written before, priests often opposed the other European colonists and aided the hostile tribes against their own people. They were early adherents to multiracialism and multiculturalism. The Mission accurately depicts this element of the Age of Discovery. The Jesuits and monks were the predecessors of today’s liberals who venture to shithole countries and fetishize the non-whites they help. The pedestaling of the Other was an important trait of the priestly caste — so long as they were Christian. Backsliding pagans were not so well-treated, however.
You’re supposed to walk away from this film hating the Europeans for coming to the New World in the first place. They spoiled the Eden — as many of the characters call the remote jungle — of the natives and cruelly oppressed innocent creatures. The natives just wanted to live alone and eat berries in peace. This is the narrative pounded into our heads every day by the system. We live on stolen land and the people we displaced were superior to us. We destroyed the Garden of Eden that was the New World.
Mendoza represents the Bandeirantes who made Brazil. They were once heroes to the nation and honored for their courage to explore the Brazilian jungles and bring civilization to its depths. Now their statues are desecrated and they’re seen as nothing more than slave hunters. This hate is applied to every European colonist in the Americas, whether British, Spanish, or Portuguese. We were never supposed to come here.
Pope Francis apologized for colonialism in 2015, showing he agrees with that. But how would all of the natives become Christian without the force of the secular authorities? Every Jesuit would’ve been sent over the waterfall without the fear of retribution. It’s a lesson in violence the Church refuses to acknowledge.
The Mission is an enjoyable film, but identitarians should remember that the protagonists aren’t the good guys.