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Religion in “The Mission” Film by Roland Joffé Essay

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Updated: Jan 17th, 2022

In “The Mission” (1986), the director aims to narrate a story of Jesuit missionaries in eighteen century South America in parallel with a description of the fight of Judaic religious communities and Jesus’s story.

Concerning the Essenes, it is not complicated to define them in the movie as one of the main movie characters, Father Gabriel, is supposed to belong to the Essen order. As well as the Essenes, the Guarani live far away from people, above the fall, forming their community. As the ancient Essenes can be considered as the ascetics, the Guarani-Essenes are also satisfied with little – they produce all the necessary things by themselves: they build houses and boats from wood, fish, and grow fruits and vegetables. After the Guarani’s transformation inspired by Father Gabriel, they wear only the white sackcloth as the Essenes did. Moreover, the fact that they have a taste for music presents the Guarani to some extent as the Innocents. The Guarani treat each other and all the people around with love and respect – however, when it comes to the displacement of the mission, they turn out to be much more than innocent lambs while preparing to defend their new home with deadly force. Thus, the features of the radical Zealots appear in the Guarani. Regarding Father Gabriel himself, he might be seen as a Jesus-like figure, according to the Gospel of Matthew – the forceful and merciful leader that does not admit any other power except the power of love. The young priest, John, can be considered as John the Baptist.

In the movie, it is also easy to reveal the Sadducees, as this party opposing to the Essenes is introduced as a group of arch villains aiming to destroy the Guarani mission. First of all, the local aristocrats Dons Cabeza and Hontar seem to belong to the Sadducees, as, historically, this religious group consisted of the great families. The local aristocracy influences Altamirano significantly, which can be considered as the reflection of the relationship between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Moreover, it is possible to draw a parallel between the Sadducees and the local aristocracy in the movie based on their relation to “the dissidents.” As the Sadducees persecuted the Jewish people for the slightest violations of Mosaic Law, Cabeza and Hontar treated the Guarani as the savages and aimed to banish them from their land.

Regarding the Pharisees, Altamirano can be considered as the most prominent Pharisee in “The Mission.” The Pharisees were extremely popular with the Jewish people and were treated with respect. Altamirano, who represents the Roman Vatican, also has the folk’s admiration and trust. Undoubtedly, it is possible to relate the politician Altamirano to the Pharisees as the members of this Judaic community were remarkably savvy about political games. Besides, the Pharisees were said to be in alliance with the Sadducees. Apparently, the relationship between Altamirano and the local aristocracy significantly reminds such an association.

Obviously, it is possible to describe Rodrigo Mendoza as one of the most ambivalent characters of “The Mission.” At first, he belonged to the Sadducees, but after the atonement he made a decision to join the Essenes. Nevertheless, when the threat of the Guarani’s expulsion appeared, Mendoza already seemed to be much more a Zealot than an Essen. In fact, after deciding to protect their rights by weapon, all the Guarani transformed from the Essenes into the Zealots. In the same manner, as the Zealots were ready to go to any lengths to defeat the Romans, the Guarani fought fiercely against the government’s soldiers. Furthermore, as the movement of Zealots evolved from Pharisaism, the Guarani up to a point were closely connected with Altamirano. Concerning the hidden meaning of Mendoza’s figure, it is possible to suggest that he might be seen as Paul the Apostle, one of Jesus’ closest associates.

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