The Mission (2023)

The Mission (2023)


A remarkably curious, challenging documentary about a controversial subject



United States of America
English, Hindi, Latin
Dan Davis, Daniel Everett, David Shih
103 min


Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Oral Roberts University.

What it's about

A documentary that tells the story of American missionary John Allen Chau — who died while trying to preach the Gospel to the remote North Sentinelese people — and questions the overall practice of evangelizing through religious missions by spotlighting both sides of the debate.

The take

In this documentary about John Allen Chau — the American Christian missionary reportedly killed when he tried to preach the Gospel to one of the last uncontacted groups in the world — a participant muses about the “fine line between faith and madness.” The hazy border where one ends and the other begins is the focus of this doc, and it makes for a fascinating challenge of audience’s open-mindedness.

The film presents Chau’s perspective through scattered interviews with friends and readings of the diary he left behind, but it also features interviews with surviving, persistent adherents of the same radical evangelicalism that inspired Chau to preach the Gospel to the North Sentinelese people (something he believed was a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus). The filmmakers treat these highly controversial perspectives with a light touch, never explicitly challenging Chau’s peers, but strong balance is provided via the voices of vehement opponents of this ideology. Providing equal weighting to both sides is an unusually hands-off approach, one that might easily be misread as tacit approval from the filmmakers. Ultimately, though, anyone watching this with an open mind will still come to the same moral conclusion — you’ll just be better informed about it.

What stands out

Among those featured in the doc who critique Chau’s savior complex are his father (whose letter to the filmmakers is read throughout the film), and Daniel Everett, an ex-evangelist who undertook a similar mission in Brazil but who ultimately came to see his actions as unethical and subsequently lost his faith. Though the doc doesn’t arrive onscreen with a particular slant, it’s impossible not to see the wisdom in these powerful perspectives, which point out the problematic colonialist foundations and tragic hubris of Chau’s mission.


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