One of Hollywood’s most vivid images of 1986 featured a martyred priest, bound to a cross, cascading over a massive waterfall. Disturbing? Without question. But not without a greater purpose. While exercising significant restraint, The Mission retells the heartrending tale of the people, politics and events that led to a brutal massacre at a South American mission in 1750.
The action picks up as Gabriel, a Spanish Jesuit, sets out to evangelize the native tribe that murdered a colleague. He meets with success, but must contend with Mendoza, a mercenary slave trader who hunts in the region. After killing his own brother in a fit of jealous rage over a woman, the grieving, repentent Mendoza seeks asylum in the church. Soon after, he asks to join Gabriel’s order and serve the very “savages” he once sold into slavery.
All is well until Spain sells the colony on which the mission resides. As a result, the natives (no longer protected under Spanish law, and disowned by the church elders) become fair game for Portuguese slave merchants. Commanded by their superiors to abandon the community they feel God has called them to serve, the priests refuse and stay behind. Gabriel’s convictions won’t let him arm for battle. Mendoza and the others, however, prepare to lead a loinclothed army in defense of everything they’ve built together.
History can be ugly. And massacres are especially brutal and upsetting. The final twenty minutes of The Mission prove no exception. Knifings. Shootings. Men hit with arrows and run through with swords. Native children picked off like ducks in a shooting gallery. The violence is not excessively graphic, but the realism—including native nudity on the level of National Geographic—will be reason enough for many families to pass on this film.
Therefore, parents are strongly cautioned to preview The Mission before sharing it with teens. Though rated PG, this Oscar-winning drama is certainly not for everyone. Mature viewers eager to tackle heavy issues, however, will be challenged to a deeper understanding of mercy, forgiveness, Christian love, faith and a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice (John 15:13) to carry out God’s will.