Please note: The following text contains spoilers. Viewer discretion
is also advised – this film is rated ‘12’.
Take a moment to try and name a film score more famous than the film it’s from. It’s tough, isn’t it? We’ve been treated to some incredible film scores over the years - from John Williams’ Star Wars: A New Hope, to Howard Shore’s The Lord of The Rings trilogy. But the films which accompany these scores are arguably equalled in their greatness. However, it’s the work of the late, great Ennio Morricone from The Mission, which has truly taken on a life of its own – ascending to greatness, whilst the film itself has somewhat faded into obscurity. The film has been critically reassessed over the years (and rightly so), but it’s Morricone’s title theme, “Gabriel’s Oboe”, which embodies the film’s central idea of what it must be like to ascend from the darkest, most sinful depths, and into the sinless, heavenly realms in union with God.
In order to seek repentance and restitution for his unspeakable actions, Gabriel charges Rodrigo with accompanying the Jesuits back to camp, dragging along with him a large net packed full of armour and weapons – the physical embodiment of his sordid past and sin. The journey is perilous, and Rodrigo stumbles at every hurdle. He becomes muddy, beaten, bruised. All that he carries with him are burdens, which become caught on the side of a cliff face, or submerged in water, holding him back from reaching his destination. And yet, against all odds, he arrives at the feet of the Guaraní community – the very people he abused and enslaved. They recognise him almost immediately, watching as he struggles with the netting, to which a tribesman responds by holding a knife to his throat. The tribespeople hurriedly communicate with one another, in this heart-stopping moment of tension. Suddenly, the knife is removed, and the Guaraní sever the rope which connected Rodrigo to his netting, pushing it off the cliff and into the watery depths below. Rodrigo lifts his head in confusion, crying and laughing in utter disbelief. He is free.
Has there ever been a more straightforward, yet bewildering picture of grace ever put to film? I tend to doubt it. Why? Well for one, this sequence (whilst short) acts as a perfect definition of what grace is. Simply put, grace is favour extended towards those who are unworthy to receive it. And in this film, who is more unworthy to receive grace than Rodrigo? He has killed and enslaved his fellow man without thinking once about the consequences – robbing people of their loved ones and burdening himself with the weight of guilt in the process. And yet, the Guaraní extend to him that graceful favour, which is completely unwarranted. In fact, they not only permit Rodrigo to live, but live amongst their community in harmony, supporting him as he becomes a new man in Christ.
In the eyes of the world, this logic simply doesn’t make sense. Surely, Rodrigo should plunge to his death at the falls. That would be justice served, wouldn’t it? An eye for an eye… etc. But somehow, the Guaraní find the strength to do as Jesus himself instructed them: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36, NLT). Having been taught the Scriptures and dedicated their lives to God, the Guaraní understand that they too were just as broken, lost and fallen as Rodrigo. They spared his life because they realised, they were once no better than him. Both Rodrigo and the Guaraní were guilty of breaking God’s holy laws – “for everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23, NLT). In their rebellion, both were no better than enemies of their creator, deserving eternal punishment as a result of their sin – “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, NLT). By all accounts, Rodrigo, the Guaraní and us - humanity itself - are therefore guilty in accordance with God’s laws. Even us, who have not committed the atrocities of certain characters throughout this film, are in fact at fault in God’s eyes. But it was “…by grace (Rodrigo and the Guaraní)…have been saved” and “through (putting their) faith” in God (Ephesians 2:8, NIV).
The Bible teaches that we, like Rodrigo, carry our own packs – filled with our sin, shame and guilt. They’re heavy and hold us back from experiencing true freedom (now and in eternity), which the Bible teaches is found in relationship with Jesus Christ. Try as we might to remove them from us, those packs are firmly secured to our backs – there’s nothing we can do, such as trying to be a ‘good person’, in order to avoid our eternal fate. For Romans 3:20 (ICB) teaches that “no one can be made right with God by following the law”, or put simply, the rules for which God intended that we follow. We need Jesus, like the Guaraní tribesman, to cut our pack from us, asking for and receiving forgiveness for our sin, and then entering into an eternal relationship with Him. And He does this even when we, like Rodrigo, have done nothing to deserve such mercy. But that is the scandal of grace – that “God has shown us how much he loves us” in sending Christ to die for us, taking the punishment that we deserved, even “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8, GNT). Through Christ alone, we can live a burdenless life, in the sense that sin no longer holds us back, and we are freed to experience eternity of life when we pass away, and not death. Thank you, God, that whilst such great a mercy might not compute with humanity’s thinking, your grace remains nonetheless true and liberating, as it was for Rodrigo.
Why not prayerfully invite a friend or family member who doesn’t yet know Jesus, to watch The Mission for themselves? Use the film’s themes to ask them what they thought of the film, if they spotted any links to Christianity and what they might think of the Gospel’s response to this subject.
If you feel able to, ask them what they think about Rodrigo's life being spared, at the hands of the Guaraní - do you think he deserved such mercy, or should he have been punished for his crimes? Ask them what they think about Rodrigo's redemption and the complete changing of his ways - is such a thing possible, or is it just wishful thinking? Later, if they're open to hearing it, take an opportunity to share the hope of the Gospel message with them - specifically focus on how the Bible teaches that "If anyone belongs to Christ, then he is made new. The old things have gone; everything is made new!" (2 Corinthians 5:17, ICB).
Prior to watching the film for yourself, however, take a moment to pray that God would speak to you through the film. If you feel comfortable, pray this prayer over all of your future, film-watching experiences:
Dear Lord, As I watch this film, I ask that you would be present here with me. Highlight to me anything within it that is honourable, anything that can be used in conversation for your Kingdom purposes. Amen.
The Mission is available to purchase on DVD/Blu-Ray or rent through YouTube.