[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] The Mission”

[1980] Raging Bull

“Boxing” films traditionally mythologize the ring as place sacrosanct. When a fighter steps through the soggy void between the semi-taut ropes and onto the mat, a particularly delicate “outside” struggle dissolves and the fighter refocuses on beating his or her opponent to a pulp. Bloody eyes and broken noses replace bleeding hearts and shattered minds, if just for the half hour. No ambitious souls have yet made a film documenting a well-adjusted boxer, as the metaphor is so obvious that as a motif, the damaged fighter, has nearly outlived its storied and well-respected history. The audience knows as much and often will seek out a “boxing” film as a place to witness redemption; the ring is both dangerous battleground and safe haven. The ring is anger and the fighter is pure punches. What makes Raging Bull a cut above the rest is the manner by which the audience connects to the ring through cinematography.

Director Martin Scorsese wanted the audience to feel Robert De Niro’s overwhelming life as real-life boxer and champion, Jake LaMotta. Raging Bull, as a rightful torch-bearer for 1976’s Rocky, demonstrates boxing mythos through tried-and-true means: Jake is a man of few words, but when he speaks the world seems to rattle. He finds no inner peace in the ring, per se, but the canvas mat and attending ropes become a home through which he can channel his pervasive anger. And the audience feels this: the steady punches – tat, tat, pumpf, the off-center angles, close-ups and pan-outs, all timed as though in 7/8 time. Raging Bull is a musical without melody, thump, thump, snatch, spin. Crash. When the bell rings, skulls rattle.  Continue reading “[1980] Raging Bull”