The movie is set in South America in the year 1750, near the border of Spanish and Portuguese territory. The land in question has been transferred from S
panish control, where slavery is technically illegal, to Portuguese control, where slavery is permitted.
The local Jesuit priests have come into conflict with both the Spanish and the Portuguese because of their efforts to protect the native Guarani people from being enslaved. The Pope has sent a cardinal to resolve the dispute. At the start of the film, the cardinal begins a letter to the pope.
Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons)—Head of a group of Jesuit monks who travel to a remote area of the Amazon to bring Christianity to the native Guarani people
Rodrigo (Captain) Mendoza (Robert DeNiro)—Mercenary and slave catcher
Cardinal Altamirano (called “[Your/His] Excellency”) (Ray McAnally)—The Cardinal
Guarani King/Chief (Asuncion Ontiveros)
Don Cabeza (Chuck Low)—Spanish official in command
Senor Hontar (Ronald Pickup)—Portuguese official in command
Father Fielding (Liam Neeson)—Jesuit monk
Felipe (Aidan Quinn)—Mendoza’s brother
Directed by Roland Joffé. ©1986. Winner of 1986 Cannes Film Festival Palm D’Or.
Music by Ennio Morricone.
Keep in mind the following quotes. You should be able to discuss each in context at the conclusion of the movie and be able to connect the quotations to the overall ideas and themes of the movie.
“With an orchestra, the Jesuits could have subdued the whole continent. And so it was that the Indians of the Guarani were brought to account to the everlasting mercy of God and the short-lived mercy of man.” The Cardinal, describing Father Gabriel’s trip beyond the falls.
“This, trying to create a paradise here on earth, how easily it offends.” The Cardinal, describing the dilemma to the Pope. How does it offend the three groups mentioned?
the Pope (His Holiness)
“What is at stake here is the very existence of the Jesuit order, both here and in Europe.” The Cardinal, explaining the political ramifications of the case to Father Gabriel.
“Sometimes you must cut off a limb to save the body.” The Cardinal, explaining why he has decided to order the closing of the missions.
“Perhaps there’s something I’m missing. I don’t see any difference between this plantation and my own.”—“The difference is that everything the Guarani make here goes back into their hands.”—“And here is another difference (Rodrigo pulls up the shirt on the back of one of the workers, revealing whip marks).” Father Gabriel and Rodrigo answering Don Cabeza’s question.
“The primary vow of the Jesuits is one of obedience.” “Then let them obey!” Exchange between Don Cabeza and the Cardinal, who claims that the Jesuits could be made to submit.
“I still could not help wondering whether these people would have preferred the sea and wind had never brought us here.” The Cardinal, after seeing the mission of San Miguel.
“They must leave the missions. They must learn to submit to the will of God.”—“They say it was the will of God that they came out of the jungle and built the mission. They don't understand why God has changed his mind.” Exchange between the Cardinal and Father Gabriel after the Cardinal’s pronouncement of his decision to give up the mission territories to the Portuguese.
“If you’re right, you won’t need my blessing. And if you’re wrong, my blessing won’t mean anything.” “If might is right and love has no place in the world—it may be so—then I don’t have the strength to live in such a world.” Father Gabriel, in response to Rodrigo’s request for a blessing before battle.
“We must work in the world, the world is thus.” “No, Señor Hontar. Thus have we made the world. . . . Thus have I made it.” Exchange between the Portuguese noble and the Cardinal following the massacre of the Guarani.
“So, Your Holiness, now your priests are dead, and I am left alive. But in truth it is I who am dead, and they who live. For as always, Your Holiness, the spirit of the dead will survive in the memory of the living.” The Cardinal, in his final letter to the Pope.