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The Mission (1986 film)

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Title: The Mission (1986 film)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: 59th Academy Awards, Roland Joffé, 1986 Cannes Film Festival, 44th Golden Globe Awards, Jeremy Irons
Collection: 1980S Drama Films, 1980S Historical Films, 1986 Films, British Drama Films, British Epic Films, British Films, British Historical Films, English-Language Films, Epic Films, Film Scores by Ennio Morricone, Films About Catholic Priests, Films About Hunter-Gatherers, Films About Religion, Films About Roman Catholicism, Films Directed by Roland Joffé, Films Produced by David Puttnam, Films Set in Brazil, Films Set in Paraguay, Films Set in South America, Films Set in the 1750S, Films Shot in Brazil, Films Shot in Colombia, Films Shot in Foz Do Iguaçu, Films Whose Cinematographer Won the Best Cinematography Academy Award, Goldcrest Films Films, Indigenous Cinema in Latin America, Latin-Language Films, Palme D'or Winners, Screenplays by Robert Bolt, Society of Jesus, Spanish-Language Films, Warner Bros. Films, Works by Robert Bolt
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

The Mission (1986 film)

The Mission
Original film poster
Directed by Roland Joffé
Produced by Fernando Ghia
David Puttnam
Written by Robert Bolt
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Chris Menges
Edited by Jim Clark
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • 16 May 1986 (1986-05-16)
  • 31 October 1986 (1986-10-31)
(United States)
Running time
126 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £16.5 million[1]
Box office $17.2 million(United States)

The Mission is a 1986 British drama film about the experiences of a Jesuit missionary in 18th century South America. The film was written by Robert Bolt and directed by Roland Joffé. The movie stars Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Ray McAnally, Aidan Quinn, Cherie Lunghi and Liam Neeson. It won the Palme d'Or and the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. In April 2007, it was elected number one on the Church Times' Top 50 Religious Films list.[2] The music, scored by Italian composer Ennio Morricone, ranked 1st on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC) Classic 100 Music in the Movies.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Historical basis 3
  • Filming locations 4
  • Soundtrack 5
  • Awards and honours 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


The film is set in the 1750s and involves Spanish Jesuit priest Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) who enters the South American jungle to build a mission station and convert a Guaraní community to Christianity. The Guaraní community above the perilous Iguazu Falls has tied a priest to a cross and sent him over the falls to his death. Father Gabriel travels to the falls, climbs to the top, and plays his oboe. The Guaraní warriors, captivated by the music, allow him to live.

Mercenary and slaver Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert De Niro) makes his living kidnapping natives and selling them to nearby plantations, including the plantation of the Spanish Governor Don Cabeza (Chuck Low). Mendoza subsequently is told by his assumed fiancé, Carlotta (Cherie Lunghi), that she loves his younger half-brother Felipe (Aidan Quinn). Mendoza later finds them in bed together and kills Felipe in a duel. Although he is acquitted of the killing by Cabeza, Mendoza spirals into depression. Father Gabriel visits and challenges Mendoza to undertake a suitable penance. Mendoza accompanies the Jesuits on their return journey, dragging a heavy bundle containing his armour and sword. Upon reaching the outskirts of the natives' territory, there are a few tense moments when the natives recognise him, but they soon embrace a tearful Mendoza and cut away his heavy bundle.

Father Gabriel's mission is depicted as a place of sanctuary and education for the Guaraní. Moved by the Guaraní's acceptance, Mendoza wishes to help at the mission and Father Gabriel gives him a Bible. In time, Mendoza takes vows and becomes a Jesuit under Father Gabriel and his colleague Father Fielding (Liam Neeson).

The Jesuit missions were safe, because they were protected under Spanish law. The Treaty of Madrid (1750) reapportions the land in South America. The land on which the Jesuit missions were located was transferred to the Portuguese, and Portuguese law allowed slavery. The Portuguese colonials seek to enslave the natives, and as the independent Jesuit missions might impede this, Papal emissary Cardinal Altamirano (Ray McAnally), a former Jesuit priest himself, is sent from the Vatican to survey the missions and decide which, if any, should be allowed to remain.

Under pressure from both Cabeza and Portuguese Governor Don Hontar (Ronald Pickup), Cardinal Altamirano is forced to choose between two evils. If he rules in favour of the colonists, the indigenous peoples will become enslaved; if he rules in favour of the missions, the entire Jesuit Order may be condemned by the Portuguese and the European Catholic Church could fracture. Altamirano visits the missions and is amazed at their industry and success, both in converting the Indians and, in some cases, economically. At Father Gabriel's mission of San Carlos he tries to explain the reasons behind closing the mission and instructs the Guaraní that they must leave. The Guaraní question his authority, and Father Gabriel and Mendoza, under threat of excommunication, state their intention to defend the mission should the plantation owners and colonists attack. They are, however, divided on how to do this, and they debate how to respond to the impending military attack. Father Gabriel believes that violence is a direct crime against God. Mendoza, however, decides to break his vows to militarily defend the Mission. Against Father Gabriel's wishes, he teaches the natives the European art of war and once more takes up his sword.

When a joint Portuguese and Spanish force attack, the mission is initially defended by Mendoza, Fielding and the Guaraní. They are no match for the military force and Mendoza is shot and fatally wounded. Fielding sacrifices himself by killing the Portuguese commander before he himself is killed. Upon seeing the Church at the mission village the soldiers become reluctant to fire. When the soldiers enter the mission village, they encounter the singing of Father Gabriel and the Guaraní women and children who march in the procession. Fr. Gabriel leads carrying a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament. In spite of this, the Spanish commander orders the attack and Father Gabriel, the rest of the priests and most of the Guaraní, including women and children, are gunned down. After Fr. Gabriel is shot a child picks up the Blessed Sacrament and leads the procession. Only a handful escape into the jungle.

In a final exchange between Cardinal Altamirano and Don Hontar, Hontar laments that what happened was unfortunate but inevitable because "we must work in the world; the world is thus." Altamirano replies, "No, thus have we made the world. Thus have I made it." Days later, a canoe of young children return to the scene of the Mission massacre and salvage a few belongings. They set off up the river, going deeper into the jungle, with the thought that the events will remain in their memories. A final title declares that many priests continue to fight for the rights of indigenous people. The text of John 1:5 is displayed: "The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness hath not overcome it."


Historical basis

The Mission is based on events surrounding the Treaty of Madrid in 1750, in which Spain ceded part of Jesuit Paraguay to Portugal. A significant subtext is the impending Suppression of the Jesuits, of which Father Gabriel is warned by the film's narrator, Cardinal Altamirano, who was once himself a Jesuit. Altamirano, speaking in hindsight in 1758, corresponds to the actual Andalusian Jesuit Father Luis Altamirano, who was sent by Jesuit Superior General Ignacio Visconti to Paraguay in 1752 to transfer territory from Spain to Portugal. He oversaw the transfer of seven missions south and east of the Río Uruguay, that had been settled by Guaranis and Jesuits in the 17th century. As compensation, Spain promised each mission 4,000 pesos, or fewer than 1 peso for each of the circa 30,000 Guaranis of the seven missions, while the cultivated lands, livestock, and buildings were estimated to be worth 7–16 million pesos. The film's climax is the Guarani War of 1754–1756, during which historical Guaranís defended their homes against Spanish-Portuguese forces implementing the Treaty of Madrid. For the film, a re-creation was made of one of the seven missions, São Miguel das Missões.[3]

Father Gabriel's character is loosely based on the life of Paraguayan saint and Jesuit Roque González de Santa Cruz. The story is taken from the book "The Lost Cities of Paraguay" by Father C. J. McNaspy, S.J., who was also a consultant on the film.[4]

The waterfall setting of the film suggests the combination of these events with the story of older missions, founded between 1610–1630 on the

External links

  1. ^ "Puttnam bites back." Sunday Times [London, England] 22 Mar. 1987: 47. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b James Schofield Saeger (1995) "The Mission and Historical Missions: Film and the Writing of History." The Americas, Vol. 51, No. 3, pp. 393–415.
  4. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (8 February 1995). "C. J. McNaspy, 79, Jesuit Musicologist, Author and Linguist". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ "The Mission". 
  6. ^ Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office The Mission Film Focus". 
  7. ^ "The 59th Academy Awards (1987) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 31 July 2011. 
  8. ^ "The 1987 Bafta Awards Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 23 January 2015. 
  9. ^ a b "Festival de Cannes: The Mission". Retrieved 11 July 2009. 
  10. ^ "1986 Golden Globes nominees and winners". Retrieved 23 January 2015. 


See also

American Film Institute lists

Golden Globe Awards[10]

  • Palme d'Or – Roland Joffé (won)[9]
  • Technical Grand Prize – Roland Joffé (won)[9]

Cannes Film Festival

BAFTA Film Awards[8]

Academy Awards[7]

Awards and honours

The Mission soundtrack was written by Ennio Morricone. Beginning with a liturgical piece (On Earth as It Is in Heaven) which becomes the "Spanish" theme, it moves quickly to the "Guaraní" theme, which is written in a heavily native style and uses several indigenous instruments. Later, Morricone defines the "Mission" theme as a duet between the "Spanish" and "Guaraní" themes. Other themes throughout the movie include the "Penance", "Conquest", and "Ave Maria Guaraní" themes. In the latter, a large choir of indigenous people sing a haunting rendition of "Ave Maria" in their native language.

From The Mission soundtrack by Ennio Morricone

Problems playing this file? See .


The tunnels of Fort Amherst in Kent were used as part of the monastery where Mendoza (Robert De Niro) is being held after he murders his brother.[6]

Filming locations

The fictional characters Gabriel and Rodrigo were involved in a struggle that is factually incorrect since only the Guarani themselves fought against oppression in the resulting three-year warfare against the Portuguese. The Jesuit missionaries did not directly disobey the orders of Altamirano, and none stayed to fight with their converts. The character of Altamirano is historically inaccurate. He was not a cardinal sent by the Pope, but an emissary sent by the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Ignazio Visconti, to preserve the Jesuit Order in Europe in the face of attacks in Spain and Portugal.[5]

Historical inaccuracies


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