When one is very young, we are indoctrinated by our education system into viewing the founders and explorers and discoverers of this nation as these heroic and mythic figures and the native peoples as savages and heathens. It doesn’t take very long though for us to realize that, in fact, the first Europeans to populate and mark their claim in North America were all sort of ass-hole imperialists and that the Native Americans had their own beautiful cultures and societies that we raped and destroyed. So, when I saw that the next film on my list was a movie about a French Jesuit’s attempts to spread Christianity to the Huron’s, I was mentally preparing myself to become severely pissed off throughout the entire film cause I was expecting some condescending bit of pro-Christianity ridiculousness. Fortunately, the film, Black Robe, gave me a gritty and realistic look at one man’s sincerity of faith in a world where he is guaranteed to fail.

Like I said, the movie is about one man’s attempt to spread Christianity to the Huron people in the northern parts of what is now Canada. He has been chosen by his superiors in the church to be part of a special mission that will go deeper and deeper into Huron territory. It’s dangerous, and the natives leading him don’t particularly care for him. And with good reason, despite the sincerity of his beliefs, he is unable to accept the fact that he is forcing his views and beliefs down the throats of people who already have their own religions and codes. The only other frenchmen to go with him even discusses how their society is ultimately more Christian than our own, except certain aspects of “Christianity” or incompatible with their long-established way of life. So, through the film, you see the full gamut of the native experience and how brutal and nasty it can be. From starving in the winter to the sickness to other tribes that want to kill you and torture you, it wasn’t a particularly pleasant way to live. The film makes the wise decision not to romanticize native life but simply to contrast it with the high-brow condescension of the French.

I’m going to call this film the anti-Dances with Wolves which both romanticized native culture and at the same time was like “the white man is bad. but the white man is also what’s going to save these natives.” It was ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong. I liked Dances with Wolves but its message is contradictory and silly. In this film, the natives aren’t “noble savages” but they  aren’t portrayed as villains either (with one tribe being a major exception). At the same time, the white people aren’t necessarily villains either. But they don’t do anyone any good at the same time. This film is perhaps one of the most realistic portrayals of this sort of time period that I can think of. I respect it’s decision to play it from a neutral stand point.

The film was beautifully shot on location, and much like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, the sense of time and place is fantastic. The scenery in the film is breathtakingly beautiful. I want to go on vacation in northern Canada now. The only thing that is keeping this film from moving up one spot higher in the score its going to receive was the terrible decision to dub English voice acting over the French actors dialogue. They had the Algonquin and Huron languages in their native tongues but thought we couldn’t handle reading French subtitles. I hate dubbing and this really bothered me. Everyone who enjoys historical films should check this out. Just don’t expect some revisionist fantasy or romantic adventure. This film requires you to think and exam the subject material. But you are ultimately rewarded with a great film.

Final Score: A-

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