“The Mission”


Rotten Tomatoes (4.5/5), Metacritic (9/10), Letterboxd (4.5/5), Imdb.com (9/10), TMDB.com (4.5/5)

Is religious missionary work an act of altruism or arrogance? Does it represent a quest for the fulfillment of one’s spiritual potential or a euphemistic cover for an inflated sociopathic ego? And, in either case, is it even possible to distinguish the two? Those are legitimate questions in the case of 26-year-old fundamentalist Christian missionary John Chau, who disappeared and was presumed dead in 2018 while attempting to spread the word of Jesus to the reclusive indigenous residents of North Sentinel Island, an Indian protectorate in the Bay of Bengal. The locale, one of the world’s most difficult destinations to reach and one that’s strictly off limits to outsiders, is home to an obscure, little-known tribe with a reputation for being mistrusting of and unwelcoming to strangers. Yet Chau was convinced that it was his destiny to convert them to Christianity no matter what, even at the cost of his life, a concern that worried his family, friends and seasoned missionaries who had attempted comparable initiatives with native people in other parts of the world. It was an effort that raised questions about Chau’s motivations: Was he a committed religious zealot who truly wanted to spread the word of Christ, or was he suffering from a maniacal Messiah Complex hell-bent on testing the limits of his courage, hubris and personal capabilities? Directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss seek to answer these and other thorny questions about this enigmatic individual whose real intents may never really be known, leaving lingering doubts and pain about his mission in the minds of those who knew him. Thanks to unprecedented access to Chau’s kindreds, as well as his recovered diaries, the filmmakers tell a captivating tale about his experience, along with thought-provoking ethical examinations about the nature and propriety of missionary work in connection with indigenous societies. Should it continue? Is it appropriate for Westerners and devout Christians to interfere in the spiritual lives of those who adhere to alternate viewpoints? Indeed, are these people genuinely in need of being “fixed,” regardless of the alleged nobility behind the intentions of those seeking to carry out these transformations? “The Mission” offers viewers a delicately balanced view of these notions, prompting even the most dedicated disciples of this work to step back and take a new look at what they and their peers are carrying out. It also presents an eye-opening discussion of this subject, encouraging us to ask ourselves, how much is too much when it comes to missionary work, regardless of the religion involved? And when is it appropriate to leave things as they are for those who already appear to be happy and contented in their lives and beliefs? There’s a lot on the line in this Critics Choice Documentary Award nominee, and, in light of the nature of its story, that’s something we must never lose sight of.