Black Robe is a 1991 film about a Jesuit priest, Father Laforgue, from France who goes on a journey with a man named Daniel and some Algoquin Indians. Throughout the film, Father Laforgue tries to teach the Indians and ultimately convert them to his religion and beliefs. It is so important for him to do this because he feels that it is his duty and that the Indians need to be saved by God. When considering Father Laforgue’s understanding of conversion, I feel that he views it as the right action rather than a right belief. This is due to the fact that he only believes in one thing- which is God- and negates all other ideas and beliefs. The act of conversion for him is a duty, not a feeling.
Besides Father Laforgue, Daniel is also a French man who volunteered to accompany Father Laforgue on the journey. He falls in love with the Natives’ Chief’s daughter, Annuka. Before setting off, Daniel seemed to have wanted to follow in Father Laforgue’s footsteps but I think that changed after he spent time with the Natives and started to develop feelings for Annuka. For example, there was a point where Daniel and Father Laforgue had different views concerning the Natives and their beliefs. Daniel describes to Father Laforgue how the Natives believe that spirits exist in the woods and control things but he thinks of the idea as ridiculous. It was until this point where you could see that they both had opposing views regarding religion. Daniel even questioned Father Laforgue if his belief was the only one. Daniel also seemed to not care that he had sexual relations with the Chief’s daughter- which is something that is not allowed in Father Laforgue’s eyes.
The “New World” in the film is profane because there is no real religion. The Natives have their own separate culture which does not consist of a “God”. Their world is raw and they live their lives day by day. They don’t plan for what comes next nor do they think about all possible consequences. They do whatever it takes to get something done. The colonizers sacralized this “New World” by bringing their religion and priests. The priests were involved in the enterprise of colonization because the Natives were deemed uncivilized and the only way to make them more civilized was by teaching the word of God with priests.
Throughout the film, there was tension between the Native tribe and Father Laforgue. The Natives saw him (and the French) as unintelligent and foolish. Father Laforgue viewed the Natives as barbarous and disconnected from God. In terms of power and knowledge, power overrules knowledge. For example, the Natives seek the advice of another Native named Mestigoit who is known to be some kind of witch doctor or “fortune-teller.” The only reason why they trust his word is because of his status and the power he holds against all of them. The things he claims about Father Laforgue are rather foolish but his powerful status takes over his actual knowledge.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie because it was interesting to see what life was like during those times and to imagine both groups of people went through during colonization. It’s actually quite amazing to think about how society and culture has changed over the years.