Cinergía Movie File:

The Mission 

Directed by Roland Joffé, 1986


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This file was created by: Natalie Bates , Chris Campos , Cheryl Grens, Laura Snow , Angel Sotelo , and Shannon Tierney

Scroll down or Click on any section to jump ahead:

Section 1: Pre-screening

Section 2: Film Comprehension and Criticism

    Section 3: Media analysis

Section 1: Pre-screening  

Note: Given the transitory nature of internet resources we suggest conducting a search to help answer the pre-screening questions.  Only a few links are included below.

1) Background Links:

The Role of the Missionary in Latin America:

In English.  Nathan Vonnahme wrote this site.  He was taking a “World Views” class in 1993 and he wrote about the role of the missionary in Latin America.  In his paper he tells you what a missionary is “the men and women who go to strange lands to help people and introduce them to Jesus Christ”.  Towards the end of the site he has a review posted about “The Mission”.


This site can help anyone who needs to know the definition of a word.  It can be very helpful if you don’t know, for example, what a Jesuit, Guarani, or a Missionary is.

The Generals of the Society of Jesus:

In English.  The first half of this site gives us the names and brief history of some of the most important generals of the Jesuits back in the 1700’s.  The second half gives us a brief history of the Jesuits.  It also gives information on the Guarani Indians.

Catholic Encyclopedia: Guarani Indians

In English.  This is a great site to learn about the history of the Guarani Indians.  If you need to find extensive information about these people, this would be a great place to start.  It tells us the Guarani Indians are mainly known for their connection to the early Jesuit missions of Paraguay; the most notable mission foundation ever established in America, and for their later heroic resistance.  Overall this is a great pre-history site before watching the movie.

The Indians Guarani:

In English.  This site is a two-page, easy read about the Guarani Indians furnished by the Nhandeva project.  It provides images and although it focuses on the Guarani Indians today; it helps give an impression of their culture.  In the film, it did not go into depth about who the Guaranis were, so this site helps give a basic background of the Guarani Indians.

A Brief History of the Jesuits:

In English.  This site begins with a detailed paragraph of when the Society of Jesus was founded.  It contains several images of Jesuit retreats throughout the world and offers many links to learn more about Jesuit history, tradition and spirituality.  In the film Jesuits were seen as God-like, this may be true, but this site helps by showing them as a realistic society.

History of the Jesuit Missions in Paraguay:

In English.  This site goes into detail about the Jesuit missions.  It also follows a clear order and provides a couple of drawings.   In regards to the film, this site gives a factual description of Carlos III, King of Spain, ordering the expulsion of the Jesuit of all his territory. 


The Mission:

In English.  This site is perfect in that it provides description of the time represented in the film.  It also gives a helpful background to further educate you beyond what the film shows.  It provides discussion questions and really ties together the film with history.

2) Pre-screening Questions:

  1. Define Missionary?
  2. Define Guarani?
  3. Define Jesuit?
  4. Where in South America were the Guarani Indians from?
  5. What was the way of life for the Guarani Indians before the Jesuits?
  6. Where are the Guaranis now?
  7. Where did the Jesuit Order originate?
  8. What were the missionary’s intentions in South America?
  9. Who put an end to all Jesuit missions in this territory and where was he from?
  10. Who was the founder of the Society of Jesus  
  11. How did it affect the Guaranis when they first encountered the conquistadors?

Section 2: Film Comprehension and Criticism  

Comprehension Questions:

  1. Who are the main characters of the film?

  2.  What is the setting?

  3. What is the theme of the film?

  4. Why don’t the Guaranis trust the Jesuit missionaries at the beginning of the film?

  5. With what does Father Gabriel capture the attention of the Guaranis in the beginning of the film?

  6.  Why do Rodrigo Mendoza and his brother, Felipe, get into a fight?

  7.  What was the outcome of the fight between the two brothers?

  8. How did Mendoza serve his penance?

  9. Who is Don Cabeza and why was he interested in the Guaranis?

  10. What was the main purpose of Father Gabriel’s missions?

  11. Who decided the fate of the missions?

  12. How did the Guaranis react to the decision made by his Eminence?

  13.   What was Father Gabriel’s position on fighting with the Guaranis?

  14. What happened at the end of the movie?

  15. Why did this happen?

2) Historical accuracy


  1. “The film’s voice is a white European distortion of Native American reality.”  (Saeger p.63)
  2. “Native Americans appear throughout, but no Indian viewpoint emerges, even though creating three-dimensional Guaranis is easy for filmmakers as it as difficult for historians.”  (Saeger p.64)
  3. “As penance, he (Mendoza) drags a sack of armor until a Guarani severs him from his burden.  Guarani witnesses to this act of rejoice with words so trivial that Joffé thinks them unworthy of English translation.”  (Saeger p.69)
  4. “The filmmakers assume Jesuit policies identical with Guarani interests, untrue historically and unconvincing on film.)  (Saeger p.69)
  5. “Film Jesuits image that Guaranis who joined missions immediately accepted Christianity, a historical inaccurate supposition.  Most Guaranis rejected Christianity for decades, often generations.”  (Saeger p.70)
  6. Thus, the conversion to Christianity by people without religion is ethically demanding, another image of the white man’s Indian.” (continuing from quote number 5)


            Saeger, James Schofield. “The Mission and Historical Missions: Film and the Writing of History” in Donald F. Stevens ed., Based On A True Story:  Latin American History At The Movies; (Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1997), pp: 63-84.


  1. What is the main point of view of the director?
  2. Are all the settings and locations in the movie correct?
  3. What role do the main characters play; Jesuits, Indians, and the Spanish?  Are they accurate?
  4. Does the movie favor a specific group?
  5. Does the movie unfair a specific group?
  6. How are the Indian’s lifestyles portrayed?
  7. What roles do the Spanish/Portuguese politicians play?
  8. Does the director, Roland Joffé, provide enough historic accuracy to consider this film a source of history?
  9. How do the Indians react to Christianity?  Is it accurate?
  10. What might account for some of the inaccuracies?

Section 3: Media analysis  

1) Still Analysis

The following still frames taken from The Mission aid in the analysis of the characters in the film.  By understanding the message of each still, it is easier to understand the motives and attitudes of the historical characters in the film.  Father Gabriel, Rodrigo Mendoza, and the soldiers are all climbing to the top of the falls in the following stills, but as we can see, each does so in a different way.  Understanding the message intended by each still gives the viewer an understanding of what the character is like as a person not only at the time of their climb, but also throughout the rest of the film.


Father Gabriel climbing the falls (#1)

The first still of Father Gabriel shows him climbing very close to the actual falls.  The shot has even, natural lighting, since it is outdoors.  There is deep focus, although the entire shot is a bit misty because of the spray from the falls.  Father Gabriel’s white shirt helps us find him in this shot because it is contrasting with the rocks.  The use of a wide angle shot shows the viewer how tiny and helpless Father Gabriel is in comparison with the powerful falls.  He is a little off to the right in this shot so that we can grasp how large the waterfall actually is.  This shot gives us an insight into what type of person he is; that although he is just one tiny man, he is prepared to go up against something large and powerful.


Father Gabriel climbing the falls (#2)

This still of Father Gabriel, although it may seem very different from the first, gives the viewer a similar idea of what type of person Father Gabriel was.  This still, like the first, also has even, natural lighting.  Deep focus is used, although it is nearly impossible to get a good focus on the moving water behind Father Gabriel.  The close up shot we see here, in contrast to the first still of Father Gabriel, lets us see more detail in what he is doing.  His eyes are closed and he seems calm and relaxed, but most people, while climbing a waterfall on wet rocks, would seem more scared or tense.  In this still we can see that his hair and clothes are soaking wet, and the water is pouring down on him, as if to show he is being cleansed or purified, like in a baptism.  From this still and the previous one, we can tell that Father Gabriel is not scared of what is before him, which we see in his actions throughout the rest of the movie.


Rodrigo Mendoza’s climb (#1)


This still of Mendoza is at the beginning of his ascent.  The shot has natural lighting and soft focus, with the attention on Mendoza rather than the water in the background.  From this type of focus we can tell that water does not have the same purifying significance as it did for Father Gabriel.  By being out of focus, the viewer is subliminally told not to regard the water as important in this shot.  The focus is only on Mendoza and the cargo he is carrying up with him.  The use of a high angle in this shot gives the impression to the viewer that Mendoza is not very honorable.  His head is bowed as if in shame.  Mendoza is in the center of the shot, but the viewer’s eye is attracted to the rope and load behind him.  Mendoza carries the load up the falls to repent for his previous sins, but from the perspective of this shot we can tell he is not yet a truly good person.  Another thing to notice about this still is that Mendoza chose an easier route up the falls than Father Gabriel.  It is dry and not quite as steep.  Although he is willing to sacrifice some by carrying up the load, he still takes the easy way out.  This behavior is characteristic of Mendoza in later parts of the movie.


Rodrigo Mendoza’s climb (#2)



The second still of Rodrigo Mendoza climbing the falls is quite similar to the first.  It, too, has natural lighting and soft focus.  The water behind Mendoza is blurred, as well whatever else is behind him.  The fact that in both shots the water is behind Mendoza and all he sees ahead is rocks gives us the impression that Mendoza is a pessimistic person.  He has no real faith in himself to become purified (water symbolism), although he half-heartedly attempts to repent by carrying the load up the falls.  This shot, like the other of Mendoza, is from a high angle where we are looking down on him.  The medium shot shows just the upper portion of his body, and rocks are blocking part of our view.  The look on Mendoza’s face shows he is struggling and unhappy, as if he wished he hadn’t decided to take on the load.  This part of Mendoza’s personality is seen in him much throughout the rest of the film.


Soldiers climbing the falls


The last still, of the soldiers climbing the falls, also shows a lot about what type of people they are.  The lighting is natural and deep focus is used.  The use of the high angle long shot showing three soldiers on the right and a boat on the left tells the viewer that it is not important to see any soldier as an individual.  They are in one action shot together, each doing the same thing, therefore telling us they are each pretty much the same as each other.  The soldiers in the film are not individual decision makers; they are instead followers and conformists.  They each wear the same uniform and perform the same actions.  Unlike Mendoza and Father Gabriel, climbing the falls poses no struggle to the soldiers.  Each has a straight shot up a rope, with others atop the falls to help raise them up.  The lack of water in this shot shows they have no concern for purification or religion.  What is seen of the soldiers in this still is common for them later in the movie as well, where they simply do as they are told and do not allow their emotions to control their actions. 

2) Media literacy questions:


1.  What is the focus of the story presented in the film?

2.  How accurately does the film portray the events, with respect to other works that discuss the same era and region?

            3.  Who was the intended audience of this film?

            4.  Why was this intended audience chosen?

            5.  How does the audience affect the techniques used in the film? What are some of those techniques?

            6.  From what perspective are the events of the film portrayed?

            7.  Whose interests does this perspective reflect?

            8.  How does the perspective from which this story is told affect the audience’s perception of the events portrayed?

            9.  What message is the film designed to give the audience? How can you tell?

            10.  What does the use of language in the film tell us about the film’s message, both its explicit and implicit message?

            11.  What is the significance of the use of music in this film?

            12.  What is represented through the use of color in the film?

            13.  How does the film’s imagery affect the audience’s grasp of the themes and messages of the film?

            14.  How does this film make use of symbolism?

15.  How do the filmmakers employ contrast as a cinematographic technique?

16. What do the final images suggest?


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Created on 4/10/01 

Last updated on 09/26/2007