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A Movie/DVD Review: The Mission

I just penned a review for Amazon of The Mission (with Robert DeNiro, Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson, and Aidan Quinn), but considering its subject matter I thought I'd also post it here:

There is a historical and sorrowful story about how colonial imperialism and a church more concerned with its political power than its charge to protect its new native converts, lead to the destruction of a South American Indian tribe. This movie captures that story powerfully through an excellent mixture of dramatization and historical faithfulness.

It is to the credit of the film that it avoids coming off as moralistic, judgmental, or naively black and white. This is not to say that this is not a clash of good and evil, it is. Slavery is evil. The church's shift from offering true sanctuary to the hunted natives to abandoning those sanctuaries is evil. The political struggle between Spain and Portugal that creates the opening for the slavers to resume their trade is evil. But would it not also be evil if the intercession of the church resulted in the destruction of its ability to do any good elsewhere? The film avoids characterizing this latter concern as of no consequence, but its narrative shows that the wrong decision was made.

Another moral issue that arises is the choices two Jesuits make when they decide to resist the church's decision to abandon the Indian sanctuaries. One, a former slaver and mercenary, chooses to lead the natives in battle. The other, to whom the maxim "God is love" is the foundation of his worldview, chooses to lead the natives in prayer. Here again, however, the film does not treat the correctness of either choice as a foregone conclusion. You feel sympathy and understanding for both paths.

A closing dialogue captures one of the movies' messages. A governor is consoling a Bishop who is not sure he made the right decision about the native sancutaries:

Governor: "Your emminence, thus is the world"

Bishop: "No, thus have we made the world."

The acting is superb, the cinementography is truly beautiful, and the message is conveyed through the narrative rather than through preachy dialogue. This set also includes welcome features, including a full-length director's commentary and a documentary that visits the South American location and the plight of the natives there.

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