I was certain I had mentioned this a while back, as I recall hearing the story a year or so ago, but Justin Baeder mentioned it just recently and I couldn’t find where I might have mentioned it in my archives. Justin links to an NPR story about the discovery of baroque sheet music in Jesuit missions in the Bolivian jungle. Long-forgotten, some of the music dates to the 17th century, and is original to the people of the area. Apparently the original score of one of the pieces recovered is on the Soundtrack by Ennio Morricone with the London Symphony Orchestra. I’ve been listening to — and loving — that soundtrack on CD since 1986, and it’s probably time that I picked up the DVD and watched it again.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen The movie, but it is outstanding. It was released while I was in college, and it sparked a lot of reflection and discussion in my circles… imagine a non-denominational setting with a high percentage of Mennonite (read: pacifist) students in an area where there is a fairly high concentration of Mennonites. The movie tells the story of two priests in the South American jungle; one is a pacifist, the other a reformed mercenary. When the army marches against the Guarani Indian village where they serve, each responds out of his own background.
For those of us revolving around the Missions program in college, a lot of questions were raised about violence and nonviolence and about how one engages in and identifies with a host culture. As I recall, many of the questions remained unanswerable in any absolute way based on the portrayals in the film. I’m curious about anyone else’s reaction if they’ve seen the movie and pondered these questions from that context.
I recall watching this movie with my youth group, a way back (also with a high percentage of Anabaptists). I remember at the end, in discussion, being asked which character, De Niro’s or Irons’, made the better choice. I felt strongly for De Niro’s character, who chose to fight – and I was chastised for saying so.
I agree with you; there are no easy answers for the questions raised by this film. …A time to live – A time to kill…
This movie shows the inescapable tension between war and peace – and eschews any attempt at armchair philosophizing for a resolution…
I have seen this film many, many times, easily my favourite movie. Every time I watch it, I discover something new in it. I realized a few years ago that the central character of the movie was neither Irons De Niro, but the young boy of the tribe.
At any rate, I lean far more towards Irons’ response, though I feel there were more than two options available in this context. Violence and martyrdom are two responses, but certainly not the only two. It is a powerful and provocative film.
Jamie, I’m trying to imagine other options – other than joining in with the enemy, pleading mercy/surrender, running away, or suicide…but I can’t think of any. I think, in this context, there were only 2 visceral options of valor and virtue – both were martyrdom.
In this sense both characters performed the same feat: they both laid down their lives for the ‘other’. One by renouncing the self and the urges to fight or flight, holding firm to the church and her ways, and to the hope in the hereafter; the other by potentially laying down his afterlife to die beside the tribesmen in a fight that he knew could not be won.
You listed more than two options there yourself. My point is that, for the sake of telling a story, the movie is simplified in this respect. It isn’t a criticism as much as an acknowledgment of the medium requires the simplification.
Further, I am not convinced that both violence and non-violence can be seen equally as virtuous choices in the film. Consider this: the weapons De Niro uses are symbolic of his sin (from the powerful scene of his redemption). He had died to his sin, how could he live in it again? The end result between the two men the same- both killed. One was martyred, the other killed in the act of killing.
Just a thought.
Excellent thoughts! In some sense perhaps we give the term ‘martyr’ too broad and too narrow a meaning –
Martyr-1: a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion
Neither character in the film did this.
2: a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle
Both did this.
While I agree with the symbolism of De Niro carrying his weapons as representing his sin and his guilt, this does not dissolve their utility into mere symbol: the weapons are not simply what they represent – they are also a tool, an extension of the man. Further, his sin was not in killing – it was in killing unjustly. In the end, his fighting with the men he once hunted as animals was the greatest possible sign of his love – all other options expounded would fall short in significance.
(Side note: I have grave doubts about any notion of a ‘Just War’ in our modern world)
Perhaps, non-violence does a violence of its own. The question then is not whether one is violent or not – it is instead: what does one’s violence point towards.