The story in the film The mission released in 1986 deals with the Spanish Jesuits who are trying to convert a community of Guarani Indians to Christianity and protect them from slave hunters. The characters of the film can be divided into four groups that are interpreted allegorically. These groups might be comparable to Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and Zealots.
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Jesuits and Father Gabriel who is a Spanish Jesuit priest are considered as Sadducees. They focus on spreading Christianity and oppose owners of plantations who want to enslave the members of the Guarani tribe. Although Guarani wanted to kill Father Gabriel when they saw him for the first time as they killed the previous preacher, he managed to gain the trust of the Indians to educate them on the mission. This mission also provided shelter for refugees from slave hunters who wanted to sell them to wealthy plantations (The Mission 1986).
Portuguese colonials and Cardinal Altamirano sent by Papa might be referred to Pharisees. They have rather liberal views on religious issues. Portuguese laws of that time allowed slavery, and since Jesuits’ missions protected tribes of Indians who were potential slaves, the Vatican sent a representative to decide which missions are allowed to remain in the territory. Cardinal Altamirano who is a former Jesuit has to choose between two evils. If all the missions are eliminated, native tribes who are converted to Christianity will be enslaved. Moreover, the decision to allow some missions to remain will threaten the Jesuit Order as they might be attacked by Portuguese authorities.
Indian tribes might be compared to Essenes. They have just been converted to Christianity and tend to look for a messiah to save them from slavery. They chose the image of the Messiah who can defeat their enemies in the battle like a warrior because this image is more compatible with their mentality. Jesuit missions played a great role in teaching and protecting them. Some researchers state that the main purpose of “the Jesuit mission program on the frontiers of Spanish America was to recast the social structure, religion, and world view, and work habits of the different native groups congregated on the missions” (Jackson 2015, p. 35). It seems that Indians see their messiah in Mendoza who is a warrior and can protect the mission. Still, it is against Jesuit traditions, and fighting the enemies back leads to breaking Jesuit vows. For example, Father Gabriel is against violence, even though he is willing to protect the mission from planters.
Therefore, Mendoza and his followers among natives who stand for the military protection of the mission can also be regarded as Zealots. Mendoza who is a former slave hunter breaks his vows given to Jesuits to fight the oppressors, protect natives, and get some autonomy for the land. This is a revolt against God’s commandments that prohibit killing human beings. Mendoza’s attempts to fight back the soldiers sent to conquer the mission characterize him and his Guarani followers as potential revolutionaries.
Mendoza can also be referred to Paul because he takes Jesuits’ vows after Father Gabriel helped him to find a suitable penance and remove his guilt after killing his half-brother at the duel. He helps the mission and Indian tribes and tries to protect them. The Indians accept him according to Christian morality despite his past attempts to enslave them. The scene when they cut away the bundle he carried to get rid of the sins shows that natives might have seen him as their personal Messiah sent to help them avoid slavery.
Jackson, RH 2015, ‘Demographic Change and Ethnic Survival among the Sedentary Populations on the Jesuit Mission Frontiers of Spanish South America, 1609–1803: the Formation and Persistence of Mission Communities in a Comparative Context’, European Expansion and Indigenous Response, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 1-306.
The Mission 1986, online video, Warner Bros., Goldcrest Films International, Kingsmere Production Ltd, UK, France, Web.