Many years ago, when I was in the throes of the most difficult period of my life, my future husband sent me a packet containing a letter, a series of goofy photos, and a cassette tape of music to bring me back to him.
I remember shoving the tape into the mouth of my car’s sound system, wondering what he would have found to bouy my spirits. Within two dusty miles of country road, tears sprouted and my throat constricted. It was music I’d never heard, yet it touched the center of my bones. It was not classical music, it was not rock & roll, it was not new age, and it was not jazz or blues. It was music that opened the heart, while simultaneously squeezing the very blood out of it.
The music was Ennio Morricone’s sound track to the 1986 film, The Mission. I was in awe that he knew of this music and that he was sensitive enough to know that it so perfectly matched my need and sentiments. These are the things from which relationships grow.
That music became our enchanted soundtrack. He had never seen the movie. I had not even heard of the movie. Often, during the years that we were together, we’d toy with the idea of watching the film from which the music evolved. But we agreed it would be a tragedy to watch a movie that could not possibly live up to the soundtrack of our lives.
Fast forward 22 years: the marriage dissolved, the sensitive man died, life moved on. Many times I’ve glanced curiously at that movie lable_first on VCR shelves, then on Netflix menus. Each time I’d pass it by, our joint fears of mediocrity echoing in my head.
Curiosity finally got the best of me and I put the the DVD in my Netflix queu. When it arrived. I poured a glass of wine to alleviate my trepidation and poked the DVD into the player. The cinematography was as beautiful as I’d hoped. The first half of the film held me in rapture commensurate with the sound track that I know and love. But after an hour and a half, the inevitable violence forced me to reconcider my rapture. Was I merely being transported on an emotional roller coaster that distorted my ability to think clearly about what I was seeing?
The next evening, I watched the film again with Director Roland Joffe’s commentary. I needed clarification: what was Joffe reaching for and how had he gone about achieving his goal?
I rarely bother with director commentaries. Hollywoodese “sort of” drives me nuts. The language of self-effacing power and vanity “kind of” interferes with the message. The round-about verbage clashes with my idea of carefully distilled artistry. But I forced myself beyond Joffe’s endless equivocal statements:
- “I didn’t want anyone to kind of interfere with that.”
- “This was not exactly what he should be doing.”
- “It was a kind of purity of his emotions.”
- “The actors discovered a sort of truth…”
(Italics are mine) These two-word phrases clutter the communication, artificially weakening the speaker in a way that I find as annoying as the pop vernacular that leans so heavily on “like.” As in:
” I want to, like, go there. I want to, like, know what he’s talking about. Like, ya know what I mean?”
Getting past the director’s affected speech patterns allowed me a deeper insight into what I was experiencing in that beautiful blend of cinamatography, music, and knock-your-socks-off acting.
It is obvious from the beginning, that actors Jeremy Irons and Robert DeNiro are portraying opposite sides of the human condition. They each exhibit frailties we all know and have experienced or observed. They are each strong and determined in their desire to live a good life_although the definition of good is debatable in each case. The European actors, juxtaposed against native South Americans_untrained in the duplicity of acting, demonstrate the many ways that humans are the same, while at the same time we may live vastly different lifestyles and hold apparently opposite cultural values. The film questions how we achieve reconciliation and who we must reconcile ourselves with.
The time was right for me to reunite the movie score with the film it was created for. Having recently visited South America, I was primed to explore a portrayal of Christianity’s invasion of indigenous culture in Columbia. I understand the unique blending of beliefs that has sprouted as a result of wave after wave of Christianity and European imperialism. And I was ready to reconcile whatever reality the film might bring to this soundtrack that was once so prominent in my life.