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The Ball Is in Our Court

  • rkurrasch 

I asked if he had seen the 1986 film, The Mission. He had not and asked if it was good; I replied that it was hard. Set in the 1750s in South America, it depicts how the arrival of Europeans in the Americas was not healthy for indigenous peoples generally, so frequently were they victimized by the politics of power and the economics of greed. As if that were not enough, this film interweaves the complicity of religion with the structures of power. In this case, the church, itself deeply enmeshed in European colonial politics, sacrifices a community of Guarani people for what can only be called its own political and institutional expedience.

A hard movie, indeed.

Talking about a film is not necessarily to recommend a film (this one is a really tough slough, particularly in the closing military campaign), but if you should happen to view The Mission, look for the redemptive moment at the end, the very end, following the credits. As the story concludes, “church” and “state” through their two proxies recount the fate of the native peoples, and the Governor says that their massacre was unfortunate but inevitable because “we must work in the world; the world is thus.” Through its clergy, the church replies, “No, thus have we made the world. Thus have I made it.”

The camera fades and the credits start scrolling. The viewer supposes the film has ended, but it hasn’t, not quite, for as the credits conclude, we see the church’s face staring through a window at the audience, at the viewer, at us, as if to say, “Thus have I made the world … what kind of world will you make?”

Remaking the world sometimes seems like a dubious enterprise for the religiously-minded, and then along come hints and harbingers and signposts that the past may be prelude to but does not inevitably determine the shape of the future: the shape of the future is a matter of the kind of world we choose to make.

A hard movie. A clear message.