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A Critical Analysis of the Music in The Mission

A Critical Analysis of the Music in The Mission

The Mission movie by Roland Joffé is based on the dramatic events that occurred in the border areas of modern Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil in the middle of the eighteenth century. The plot is focused on attempts of Spanish Jesuits to protect the Guarani Indians from enslavement by the Portuguese. Ennio Morricone is an Italian composer who was working on music for The Mission. He uses music to emphasize the depth and true sense of confrontation. In order to evaluate employment of music in the film narrative, it is important to isolate separate themes from the whole musical and be able to give a comprehensive assessment on the function each of them performs. Also, identifying the main musical instruments can give an opportunity to deeply understand the purpose of the specific music piece. Moreover, it is important to establish emotional comment music gives in The Mission. It not only interprets the scene, it goes beyond the shown visual elements. Musical themes replace and interpenetrate each other. A moral evaluation, philosophical synthesis, critical mind, an ironic subtext and, of course, the author’s subjective attitude to the phenomenon lies in the chosen music themes. Certainly, it is impossible to draw a line between where illustrative accompaniment ends and an emotional philosophical and moral commentary begins (Fischoff 2005). However, in this movie, music plays a great role and its moral evaluation function is extremely important. This paper examines several music themes which were used in The Mission, the overall feel they create and their significance and impact on the filmic narrative.

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A focus on both acoustic and electric guitar, unorthodox percussion, and sonority of the flute, which he used in The Mission, are typical for Morricone’s orchestration (Oxford Music Online 2015). Theme 1: Father Gabriel's Oboe Solo appears when Father Gabriel first tries to meet the Guarani. One can see Guarani hidden behind the trees, watching Father Gabriel apprehensively, but hypnotized by his music. It is an example of how diegetic music is used in this movie. The sound emanates from the character; it describes his internal world and influence on other characters (Gorbman 1987). Theme 1: Father Gabriel's oboe solo is interesting by its variety and can be examined on several levels. First, the hard, purposeful tone of the European oboe is used to create contrast with the scattered tone of the Indian flute. In addition, the melody starts with a baroque ornament, which is called Circulo mezzo. It creates the musical feeling of time and place, as well as represents the fight of the Jesuits, who “got in the middle” between the Guarani, the church authorities and the Spanish and Portuguese governments. In addition, the melodic contour terraces up, contrasting with radical features, in which melodies are mainly terraced down. The Chief is becoming more nervous, as the melody rises like in defiance of the world order. As melody culminates, he comes out to take the oboe, and splits it. When a musically sensitive boy, Chief’s son takes the oboe and tries to fix it, Father Gabriel becomes accepted by Guarani. This theme occurs throughout the whole movie. The interesting detail is that Father Gabriel is playing Western music. Later, the fact that the Indians sing the music as a European army comes to carnage them is meant to tear our hearts because their own form of music is not supposed to survive. It is like playing violin in the jungle: only seeing in the mirror image of own culture, people can appreciate the value of another (Conrich & Tincknell 2006).

At the next scene’s opening, Theme 1 transforms into the background music. On this background, the viewer watches Jesuits working with the Guarani to build the mission. It can be noted that now this background theme is played by the Indian flute alone. Soon it will be merged with the Theme 2: Vitta Nostra.

In the next part, in which music presents an important part, there is a scene when emissary is conducting research on the evidence of both: the Jesuits, the Spanish and Portuguese governments. He tries to make a decision on future missions. Guarani young boy singing Theme 3: Ave Maria makes Father Gabriel to hesitate. This is where diegetic music is used again in order to impact character’s decision (Boltz 2001). Emissary decides to visit the mission before making any decisions.

The usage of these two themes requires more in-depth and detailed explanations. The theme 2: Vitta Nostra comprises the phrase “Vita Nostra” which means “Our life”. It is sung by choruses and played with Indian of flutes and drums. The phrase is made up of only four notes, which creates the imitating of the radical harmonic practice. The theme is a representation of power that Guarani obtained when they built their mission, their haven from slavery.

Hymn Ave Maria (Hail Mary) firstly appeared in the trial. Morricone’s choice of Ave Maria is essential, according to the fact that the hymn used the words of the angel Gabriel when he tells Mary that she is pregnant with the son of God. Catholics frequently use these words to ask Mary for intercession to Christ. In the film, Father Gabriel uses a hymn to ask the Church (“Mother”) to help Guarani and save the mission, so that they can have a safe haven against the slavers.

The themes 1, 2 and 3 are intertwined throughout the next scene and need more advanced explanation regarding their usage. Emissary eventually decides to abandon the mission and ordered the Jesuits to leave. Young Guarani boy goes to the river and finds the weapons which Mendoza left there. He carries the sword and silently asks Mendoza to take it and fight in the name of Indians. Mendoza takes a sword. Other Jesuits want to fight under the direction of Mendoza. The music represents all these events. For example, Indian choirs sing Ave Maria to greet emissary each time he attends one of the missions. When the Guarani boy is carrying out a sword to Mendoza, encouraging him to help, Mendoza is caught between his Jesuit beliefs and sympathy for Indians. When he decides whether to take the sword or not, Theme 1 is played on the oboe; when he finally takes the sword, the Theme 1 is finished with the Indian flute. Theme 2 is played on the background when Guarani are finishing their preparations before fighting against the soldiers.

At the final scene of the movie, the soldiers burned the mission and killed all the Jesuits and most of the Guarani. Few of those who survived and some of the Guarani children see the Catholic sacramental cross and the violin in the river. They decide to save the violin and run back into the forest. Background music is intertwined with main themes. Most interesting is the fact that it ends with a choir singing Vitta Nostra, ending with “Glory to God ... Ha!”. Theme 4: Miserere is one more example of diegetic music in The Mission. Miserere (have mercy) is part of the Catholic Mass of the Dead (Requiem). Miserere is sung by a boy with soprano. He is one of the surviving children. The viewer watches him singing Miserere on the background of the mission’s destruction at the end of the film. The Theme 4: Miserere starts from the same motive as Vitta Nostra.

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The music in the movie is a tool that is able to emphasize the sense and the main idea of the plot, as well as dynamics and psychological state of the characters. It usually plays an accompanying role, however, sometimes may have a leading role. Musical themes help to reveal the hidden meaning of different scenes. It is also used in order to increase an effect of the film. In The Mission, music plays a crucial role. It creates an emotionally-semantic perception of space and time, organizing conditions for empathy (Boltz 2001). It helps the viewer to participate as a spectator in the process of watching the film. The music leaves a giant plume of emotional perception after watching the film. In The Mission, music completes what cannot be displayed visually. Multiple layers are created and the emotionally realistic volume is formed with properly picked songs and music themes. They are constructed mainly on the basis of dramatic conflict. Certain musical themes represent the parties to the conflict, their confrontation, weaving, and development of dramatic action. The music is often used to combine multiple events dramaturgically. Another dramaturgical function of music in The Mission is that it expresses the feelings of the characters. Also, music represents subjective, philosophical, and moral comment of the filmmakers. It embodies a certain aesthetic and general philosophical and social setting and express the authors’ attitude to the film depicted the events in it. In this movie, music plays a great role of the critical mind, and its moral function is extremely important.

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