[1986] The Mission

the_mission-702519941-largeCan a film be considered a religious text? Yes: if it openly professes a love for one’s gods and saints, openly proselytizes for the purposes of religious conversion, or maintains a strong interpretation of a written or oral religious text. In a tech-dominated world it is a means of spreading the Word visually. In other words – a modern world where information is more valuable by the second than by the sentence. It is too simple to say that our attention spans are shortening and that the only way we learn is force-fed through television. It is too simple to say that the only way to teach is to show and not tell. It is interesting that in a world with more choice, the options for information transmission have shrunk.

No: a film isn’t a religious text. How can it be? For a film to be successful it has to enrapture; tell a story, but not preach; fulfill character and plot narrative. A successful film has to draw from and reflect back its creation onto its audience – a religious text is instructional and a one-way guide to Salvation and Surrender. Or: can it be up to interpretation? Can a film be slick enough to work as a religious text for visual learners and a narrative for those who choose to see religion as a plot point and not an instruction manual? 1986’s The Mission comes close.

The Mission is a quasi-retelling of the betweenmath of the Treaty of Madrid that realigned Spanish/Portuguese political borders in Central South America at the expense of native peoples homes and livelihoods. In the center of this realignment are Jesuit priests, who have successfully(?) converted a tribe to Christianity bringing with them industry, housing tenure, and service to a higher power. The Jesuit priests, led by Jeremy Irons’ Father Gabriel, and eventually Robert De Niro’s Captain/Father Mendoza, seek to retain a relationship with the native tribe in spite of differing attitudes from the colonizing envoys – the Spanish are laxer than the Portuguese. They (Jesuits) see their purpose as one direct from God, by way of salvation and prosperity. They (envoys) see their purpose as one direct from God, by way of salvation and prosperity.  Continue reading

[1986] Children Of A Lesser God

Thanks to the invention and acceptance of sign language, deafness is not a debilitating affliction.

As physical limitations go, those who cannot hear have quite a few methods to conquer communication: reading lips, writing notes, using sign language and in quite a few cases, actually speaking. Being deaf or hard of hearing alone can’t stop a determined person from achieving any goal a hearing person would have. In Children Of A Lesser God, a hearing, but sign-fluent, William Hurt takes up residence at a school for the deaf as a communications teacher; throughout the film, scenes show him attempting to teach his students to communicate, not only with each other, but also with hearing people, too. His goals are surface-valiant and his methods delightfully unconventional.  But when he meets Marlee Matlin, a beautiful, deaf custodian at the school, who signs whip-smart sass and hides a dormant intelligence, the audience gets a taste of emotional physics. It makes for compelling drama.

Nested within the drama lies the main conflict in Children Of A Lesser God. It’s Netwon’s First Law wrapped into a different mode:

Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it

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