The Mission, of Those Who Know

Feb 16, 2008 Published under Gaza, Latin America, Middle East, Movies, Music, Religion

One of my favorite movies ever, which I just saw recently after many years, is The Mission.  Like all great movies, its power to entertain and its message stand the test of time…

The Mission juxtaposes the idealistic beauty of devout god-fearing religious heroes who serve humankind, vis a vis the amoral (if not immoral) political monstrosity that organized religion often becomes. 

Just as important, the paths of its main characters force us to question core assumptions and beliefs, not least of which include the wisdom of imposing cultural and religious beliefs on others, the use of force vs. reliance on divine intervention in the quest of justice, and, above all, the path of forgiveness and redemption.

The musical score from Enio Moriconne (sp?) and the epic cinematography are enough to warrant watching this movie.  But the story (with an extraordinary script, direction, editing and acting) rises above so that a very long movie leaves you wishing it hadn’t ended so fast.

The apt title, "The Mission" refers to not just a 15th Century Church Mission off jungles in South America caught between geo-political and religious agendas, but also to "the mission" that transcends physical form, to one’s mission in life.

Two central characters each have a mission.

The "good" character is a Jesuit, who following what he perceives to be God’s word, wants to proselytize the indigenous people in South America and try to convert them into Christians.  Non-violence is his highest code, and he surrenders his life and that of his eager believers to the will of God.

[Jeremy Irons' character's goodness slightly reminded me of a young, deeply devout Anglican Christian with an Egyptian father and a German mother, Philip Rizk, who moved to Gaza to serve the people on the ground.  THE BIG DIFFERENCE IS THAT PHILIP HAD ZERO INTENT OF PROSELYTIZING ANYONE; HE JUST WANTED TO HELP.  He once showed me around in Gaza a couple years ago and I was struck at how earnest and sincere he was in his wish to just help the ordinary citizens caught amidst so much suffering, with no agendas or other motives.  I have not heard from him in a while and hope he is safe. He inspired me.]

Then there is the outright avaricious anti-hero, portrayed by Robert DeNiro, who hunts Indians as herd and sells them as slaves. 

To a big degree, this story is about redemption – and penance, for one’s sins.

In contemporary terms, these are among the questions the movie provoked in me:

  • A lot of our world’s problems emanate from those who think they have the higher word, the ultimate secret, and exclusivity on the high ground;
  • At what cost should society and individuals encourage "progress"? Is more comfort, more education, more scientific knowledge, worth the costs of losing humanity’s connection to nature and to one’s own culture?
    • This question obviously resonates a lot with conservative religions today feeling trampled by globalization and westernization.  Watching this movie may give us a glimpse into the feeling and questions that are valid vis a vis modernization.  None of this would in any way justify absolutist violent counter-reactions, but valid issues are there and we tend to ignore them in the West.
  • Evil resides in institutionalized greed; power struggles come about when humanity is totally replaced by a bureaucracy which does not need to respond to anyone morally;
    • there is a big difference between the true humility of noble human beings who truly want to help their fellows, vis a vis organized religion’s hunger for power.
  • Hamas today uses very similar techniques to those which the Church used to use during medieval times and during its imperialist conquest of lands across the world in the fifteenth century and beyond, let alone to those it continues to use when seeking to proselytize in the third world today; it uses social benefits and tangible improvements in daily life to ingratiate itself with the subjects and then be able to teach (and impose) its dogma to (on) them.
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  1. June said:

    All things cosinedred, this is a first class post

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