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Timeless Mission

Video | Epic 1986 film powerfully depicts clash of greed and faith

Issue: "GOP idea man," May 22, 2010

Is your life worth your soul? It's a question that the Jesuit missionaries in Roland Joffe's sweeping 1986 epic The Mission find themselves having to answer. The movie even begins with a man risking his life. Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons), a priest sent to evangelize the remote Guarani tribe in South America, must take over the work of his predecessor, whose reception has been something of a cold one. The first scene shows that unnamed priest tied to a cross and hurtling over a waterfall. Clearly, the Guarani dislike visitors of the Christian persuasion.

They come to like Gabriel, though, and eventually his friend Rodrigo Mendoza, a former Portuguese slaver. Mendoza (Robert De Niro) initially has no qualms about capturing and exporting the natives, but when he kills his brother in a rage, he knows that something is wrong with him and goes to Gabriel for penance. Mendoza's conversion is one of the most moving scenes in the film.

Of course, things go horribly wrong. As the mission grows more successful, one contingent sees it as a potential source of revenue; another sees it as gold mine of future slaves. The pope's emissary tells the priests to leave, and the corrupt Portuguese ambassador is thrilled. When the missionaries rebel, choosing to serve God instead of their corrupt leaders, they put themselves in harm's way, and the movie doesn't shy away from the consequences. There's little objectionable in this film, though some won't be comfortable with the scenes of the topless natives, but the violence at the end is truly shocking without being baroque or gory. The Mission is a film for grownups, though it's rated PG.

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The film serves as an important reminder of the love of God, of the devastation that the sin of greed can wreak, and of the power that men who care nothing for worldly possessions will have-if they trust solely in the power of the cross. It's also expertly made: The locations are beautiful, the score is gorgeous, and the actors are some of the most talented people ever to work in Hollywood.


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