The Black Robe

In the film, The Black Robe, the idea of an imago mundi to separate the sacred and the profane and eliminate the evil and chaos within the native tribes is the central purpose of the designated french missionaries (priest). In their colony and Huran village, there’s a cross and church that seems to indicate a center or point of reference (axis mundi). This central area, with a designated purpose, seems to represent a center for Christianity to spread and develop that eventually was supposed to influence the natives. The “New World” is profane and empty of the spirit of the sacred through the French’s eyes. An area lacking structure, lost, and controlled by evil making it a necessity to convert the natives and sacralize the land to establish, in turn, harmony and peace. Father Laforgue realizes this mission is harder than  the French believed and endures devastating conditions to, in the end, achieve nothing.

Throughout the film, the natives look negative upon the French, believing Father Laforgue is an evil spirit.  To the natives, knowledge of the forest is the most important factor of their religious belief given , they can’t read or write. On the contrary, to the French knowledge of the book (sacred scripture) is the more important, shown by Father Laforgue that always engages in reading the bible, writing of the sacred journey, and calling unto God in desperate times. To the natives, the French’s lack of knowledge for the forest makes them stupid and impotent. With time, Daniel, a French man with the possibilities of priest hood, points out the natives already have an established belief system that, in their own way, makes them similar to Christians. They’re own afterlife, daily tasks, knowledge, and spirits will make it difficult to convert them; an opinion that is accurate when facing death they failed to believe in the French’s God and paradise. Even through the darkest of times, betrayal, and death Father Laforgue continues to persist, hope, and pray for these natives asking God to have mercy on them and desperately trying to convince them of the power of God. This “modern man” is referred to as a devil and misunderstood by the natives, he fails to embrace or understand the native culture sticking to the modernistic belief Christianity is the only way and the right way. Daniel on the other hand, falls in love with Annuka, and begins to understand and respect their culture and beliefs letting go of the strict Christian life principles he originally practiced and challenging these beliefs (developed into Post-modernism).

Hermeneutics plays an important role throughout the movie showing the native’s way of interpreting Father Laforgue has a strong impact on their perspective of his character. Even though his intentions were simply to lead them towards paradise which, in his mind, resulted in a greater life for the natives, their interpretation of his language, scripture, knowledge, and religious rituals were seen as unknown and strange. As Father Laforgue is exposed to their way of life, he believes more and more in the surroundings of evil, violence, and death among the native tribes while they continue to believe in his demonic nature and idiotic beliefs; even towards the end of the film where they’ve lost everything and everyone. The Black Robe ends with a textual remark that allows us to see the natives finally engaged in baptism only to be massacred by their enemy tribe years later. Maybe this comes to show, religious beliefs are a way of life and arise because of different circumstances. The natives acknowledge the forest because that is all they know and rely on, a misunderstanding from the French because of the difference in life styles. They envisioned this Christian impact upon the natives who, were already accustomed to their own form of religious survival that helped them cope with the dangers and desires of their own life style.

Overall, the film was interesting and served to show the impact religion has on different societies and everyday life. The Black Robe encompassed the religious aspect, historical aspect, and practical principles of both the natives and the French. At the same time, it was interesting and engaging while still delivering a message and serving its purpose.

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