The film begins on a French settlement, in modern-day Quebec. Samuel de Champlain, the founder of the settlement, sends Father Laforgue, a young Jesuit priest, on a mission to spread Christianity by having some of the local Indian tribes embrace the religion. Champlain provides the Algonquin Indians with some weapons and gifts in exchange for their guidance for Father Laforgue and his friend Daniel to a local Huron village. Father Laforgue, also referred to as the black robe, is a true Christian and wishes to save them by converting them; he, like many others, sees the Indians as barbarians or savages that need Christianity to become civilized. Daniel, the black robes friend, eventually develops a romantic relationship with Annuka, one of the Indians, much to the displeasure of Father Laforgue. The black robe and Daniel view the Algonquin’s beliefs differently. Laforgue at one point refers to the Algonquin’s concept of the afterlife as childish and ridiculous; however Daniel argues that it is no different than believing in the Christian afterlife where humans ascend to the sky to sit on clouds.
Many of the Algonquin view the black robe and the French in general as evil. The tribe seeks advice for what they should do with Father Laforgue from a Shaman-who clearly envies the influence Lafogue has had on them. The Algonquin decide to abandon the black robe; Laforgue accepts his fate and prays that GOD may have mercy both on him and the Algonquin. Chomina, the leader of the Algonquin, is consumed with guilt for not following through on his promise to guide and protect the priest and returns to rescue the black robe. Upon returning, they are ambushed by another tribe and captured. The other tribe murders Chomina’s son and explains that the remaining survivors will be tortured and killed slowly the following day. Eventually, Chomina, Laforgue, Daniel, and Annuka escape. Chomina, injured from the battle, realizes that a valley they came across while escaping was a place he had dreamt of many times, the place he was destined to die. Before leaving Chomina, Laforgue attempts to convert him one last time, but fails. Daniel and Annuka decide to leave Laforgue alone so that he may travel to the Huron village and complete his quest. Once he arrives, he realizes that all the settlers were murdered by the Indians because they believed their illnesses were brought upon by the settlers. The lone survivor of the settlement asks Laforgue to offer a Baptism to all the Indians in order to save them. The black robe is asked by the Hurons if he loves them, he says that he does, and then baptizes them. The film ends with an explanation that Hurons were killed off by another tribe many years later and the French mission was a failure.
In my opinion, this was an outstanding production. The Indian tribes had their own beliefs and clearly showed no interest in the Christian GOD or paradise. At the end, when the Hurons convert they do so only because they believe it will be the only way to cure their sickness. Father Laforgue kept true to his faith the entire movie; I would commend him however for developing empathy and understanding for the Indian’s customs. Perhaps if more Jesuits and settlers would have attempted to understand the beliefs of others, instead of pushing Christianity onto them, many fewer people would have lost their lives. Religion can bring communities together; unfortunately sometimes it can have the opposite effect as well.
Written by: Fernando Lopez