Dir: Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss | US Doc 103′
This new documentary tells the story of a courageous but naive young man who was fired up by his spiritual conviction to embark on a fateful mission to a forbidden part of the world. The Mission also offers a fascinating and comprehensive exploration of the ‘Messiah’ complex in this deep dive into unethical travel and even modern day martyrdom.
Inspired by Robinson Crusoe and ‘boys own’ adventures of derring-do, John Chau blatantly ignored official government advice. In 2018, he set off on a misguided journey to North Sentinel Island to visit one of the last communities of people who have chosen to remain “uncontacted” by contemporary society. The Sentinalese tribe enjoys the protection of the Indian government and discourages outsiders from visiting their palm-fringed enclave in the Bay of Bengal.
In the erroneous belief that God would protect him, Chau would meet his fate shortly after arrival. But the story that follows his early demise is really worth watching. Some may find John’s hubris inspiring, others may find his disingenuous arrogance condescending in this act of wilful denial. It’s just another example of how ‘American individualism’ can lead to the misguided belief that the system can somehow be beaten in a bid for glory by using God’s message as a badge of honour to break international laws in the name of Christianity.
The Mission is nonetheless a thrilling documentary. Inspired by Chau’s extensive diaries and a letter from his bereaved father, directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss make use of comprehensive commentary from his friends for a story that combines archive footage of John’s past, interviews with his friends, and imaginative cartoon images to flesh out a unique example of how a modern missionary was motivated by his fervent evangelical faith to conquer a remote tribe and explore uncharted territory.
Although the documentary takes an somewhat unwarranted swipe at certain aspects of Christianity seen through the prism of its more fervent followers, The Mission does shed light on the enigmatic inhabitants of North Sentinel Island who have made an informed decision to avoid the outside world based on their own experience of history rather than from a standpoint of ignorance. In the end what Chau’s story boils down to is this modern day need for ‘self importance’ rather than true religious belief which has nothing to do with the ‘self’. MT
IN UK CINEMAS FROM 17 NOVEMBER 2024