My Favorite Movie: Black Robe


Black Robe is a rare cinematic gem, a true artistic treasure. It’s the story of a young French priest who goes off to New France to bring the Catholic Faith to the Native peoples, the harshships he endures, and the cultural clashes between the two. Even if the film did not have a Catholic theme I would probably still have loved it. It would be worth watching for the beautiful cinematography alone, as well as the accurate portrayal of the Native American people. Not to mention the overall Frenchiness of  the film, which appeals to me as a francophile.

 The film is based on the novel of the same name by Brian Moore, an Irish “ex-Catholic” (the worst kind of anti-Catholic), yet it’s surprisingly fair to the Church and the young priest, except for the ending, which I’ll get to later. The movie does not romanticize the Native Americans or even the idealistic young priest, as both sides are shown to be painfully human, with warts and all. But what strikes me the most is the unshakeable faith and zeal of the missionary priest against the backdrop of absolutely stunning natural beauty. When the New York Times, New Yorker Magazine and Newsday give it rave reviews, you know it has to be something special. Even wiki gave it a good write-up:

Black Robe received praise for being a magnificently staged combination of top talents delivering a gripping and tragic story, and has been rated one of the most meticulously researched representations of Native American life ever put on film.

In other words, it’s not the Canadian Dances with Wolves. The film is centered around the young Jesuit priest as he is escorted by members of the Algonquin tribe up river into the far northern reaches of Quebec, into Huron territory, in order to establish a mission. The story is based on actual letters written by Jesuit priests from New France and recalls the stories of great North American Martyrs like St. Isaac Jogues and St. Jean de Brébeuf , et al., who suffered horrible deaths to bring the Faith to the Native peoples. Watching the movie, I can’t help but feel a deep sadness and sense of loss thinking of all the missionaries throughout the history of the Church who sacrificed their lives to bring the Faith to people in every corner of the globe, and how all their hard work is being undone by the Conciliar Church.

The new emphasis in the Church is on “inculturation” and respecting the pagan religions of the people instead of on conversion (as evidenced by the abominations at Assisi). That must come as a slap in the face to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, “The Lily of the Mohawks,” and first beatified Native American.  Not to mention to Christ Himself who told us to go out and evangelize the whole world. Blessed Kateri herself was converted by French Jesuits in upstate New York after smallpox wiped out her entire family, leaving her badly scarred and partially blind. 

Speaking of smallpox, the movie brings to mind the difference in treatment of the aboriginal peoples of America by the French (and Spanish) compared to our own country’s treatment of the Native Americans. When the Anglo-Americans were not brutally ethnically cleansing them off their lands, they were handing out smallpox blankets to them as a form of genocide. But the French and Spanish crowns were concerned about saving the people’s souls, not driving them off their lands. That difference was the Catholic Faith.[Political correctness alert:  This is not to say that no human rights abuses ever occurred among the French or the Spanish, since goodness knows this is a politically charged subject. But if Christians really believe that you need faith in Jesus Christ to be saved, then the only way to achieve that is to bring the Faith to those without it. In other words, through missionaries who care enough about the salvation of souls to travel to hostile lands and live under primitive and harsh conditions, to save as many souls as possible. Therefore, the souls of the Native American peoples who are happily enjoying paradise right now are grateful to the missionaries who loved them enough to live with them and die for them.]

Now, back to the story. To me the whole thing is about loving and sacrificing, even when your love is not returned and you don’t get to see the fruits of your labor. But those missionaries planted seeds of faith in the American soil that were watered with their own blood. Their sacrifices bore plentiful fruit for centuries, at least until the 1960s when Canada experienced its quiet revolution. It’s almost too painful to write about. We must be in the Great Apostasy.

The movie was met with rave reviews by the public as well, and not just by devout Catholics. That’s what’s so amazing about this film, that it’s actually not anti-Catholic and yet it’s a super high quality production. Devout Christians usually have to settle for movies that look like they were filmed with a camcorder, since Hollywood bigshots are anti-Catholic (recall Mel Gibson’s ordeal). As one impressed commenter wrote on IMDB: “One really can’t get the full impact of this [movie] through a review.” Exactly.

So on to the ending. The ending was ‘the best of times and the worst of times’ for me. The most beautiful musical score I think I’ve ever heard (I couldn’t catch the name of it in the credits), a stunningly beautiful sunset, with Latin words fading in the background. Then that stupid paragraph has to come up on the screen to try to ruin the whole thing. Without giving away the ending, let’s just say that the other tribes had not yet been converted, which means that the baptized are in paradise. Either we believe that as Christians or we don’t. Je crois.

See all the rave reviews here.

See the movie trailer here.

[Warning: this movie contains some scenes with brief partial nudity, some sexuality and violence. So it’s not for the Puritanical.]

4 Responses

  1. It is an interesting film

  2. This is a fabulous movie and as you said portrays both groups warts and all. I’ve watched it dozens of times. However I don’t think it means to nor should it generate a lot of sympathy for the missionaries or taking the faith to the heathen.

    Father Lebeauf only develops as a human being and in my view lives up to what a Christian should aspire to when he finally learns to love the natives as real people who have value apart from being fresh souls for God. The last missionary to die at Huronia wanted to lie about baptism saving them from small pox. Lebeuf is honest.

    His experiences finally make him question the dogma he was spouting from the beginning of the movie. He doesn’t lose his faith. It becomes more humane and accepting of differences. The other missionaries we meet are dogmatic, unreflective, intellectually dead.

    This is a brilliant movie (and book) about the clash of cultures that occurs when both are too eager to view the other as a barbarian who is ruled by the devil or demons. The rigidity of the Church has not helped these matters then or since.

    Remember while the Natives of the time were brutal at times they were also, as Daniel could see, extremely generous. They were certainly no worse than the European of that time period.

  3. LOL the nude sex scenes are probably why I wasn’t shown this film at my Catholic High School. The film is VERY realistic in portraying the Native and French people, and for a former Catholic, portrays Black Robe as a well meaning and caring man. Yes, very realistic and sometimes graphic, but well done.

  4. “Native American” is the PC term; why use it? Besides, although the left wants to hide it, these “Native Americans” were preceded by another peoples! Their bones were found and it has been hushed up. Check the Internet, you might find some mention to it. And please, please, stop adopting leftwing Newspeak!

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