Black Robe

– Movie Review Essay, Research Paper

“Black Robe” – Movie Review

“Black Robe” is a movie that tells the story of the first contacts between the Huron Indians of Quebec and the Jesuit missionaries from France who came to convert them to Catholicism, but ended up delivering the Indians into the hands of their enemies.

The Jesuits saw the “Savages”, as they called them, as souls to be saved. The natives saw the Black Robes, as they called them, as destroyers and “demons” threatening the gods and sorceries, which ordered their lives. Out of that, a big conflict between two cultures is shown.

Those first brave Jesuit priests did not realize that it was not the right thing to do, because a burning faith and an absolute conviction drove them. Only much later it was apparent that the European settlement of North America led to the destruction of the original inhabitants, not their salvation.

Father LaForgue, a Jesuit, undertakes a long and arduous journey in winter, guided by the Algonquins, threatened by the Iroquois. It is a torturous experience, and “Black Robe” visualizes it in very realistic depictions of Indian life. Throughout the movie we can very well find details of the housing of the Indians, their methods of hunting and food procurement and the way they use absolute trust and cooperation of each other to fight against the deadly climate.

It also becomes clear that the Indians had their own religious and belief systems already in place, and that none of them had much use for Jesus and the other gifts of Christianity.

This is clearly shown in a scene when the Jesuit priest is trying to explain the advantages of going to Heaven, and the Indians he is with laugh at him – the cultural context is incompatible and communication with understanding is impossible.

On the other hand, for the white people it is hard to understand the brutality and torture that is part of Indian life. When Iroquois are torturing the Jesuit priest and his party, the young Frenchman says: “They are Iroquois, they are animals”. But the Alonquin chief answers “Don’t be a fool. We would have done the same thing.”

Although “Black Robe” is showing the brutality of unredeemed natural man, the indians, for all the barbarism are fully human. We see many moments of their tenderness and humor. Also, they have some traits that could be considered more Christian than the behavior of the Jesuits. For example, the Aloquins share everything with each other, so they were confused when the Jesuit priest did not want to share tobacco with them. Even the most savage of them are shown not to engage in cruelty for its own sake but rather for the sake of their gods. The three native groups that appear in the film, Algonquins, Iroquois, and Hurons, are distinctively depicted and even the Iroquois are presented as humans, but with their own standards and expectations.

Laforgue changes, softens and humanizes his European, Christian “superiority.” The natives change in various ways that will lead to their cultural extinction. Laforgue’s intentions are sincere, even when he’s being a bigot; his love for the natives at the end is real. But he and the rest that will follow are the agents of one of the great cultural tragedies of history.

According to my knowledge, the movie “Black Robe” is historically very accurate. That is what makes it very fascinating and it is impressive, how the viewer is able to look into the hearts and minds of the French men, as well as the Indians By doing that, the movie did not take sides. I have to admit that Black Robe had given me a depressive feeling and that some scenes are hard to forget, but it was telling the truth and that is important.


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