Tag Archives: The Mission
by Christie Robb
Tania Anderson’s documentary The Mission details the lives of four very young adults as they embark on two-year missions to try to spread the word of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to the population of Finland. Finland—a country in northern Europe with a high per-capita income, one of the best educational systems in the world, an extensive social safety net, and one that has ranked number one in every annual report of World Happiness since 2018. Not the kind of place where people are likely to be shopping for a new religious modality.
Barely out of childhood, the two American men and women spend a few weeks in a kind of missionary boot camp in Utah before being thrown into a new country, expected to converse with the locals despite only knowing a few stock phrases (and often stumbling over those) and ultimately convince them to convert. Their lives are regimented. Expected to rise at 6:30 AM each day and begin work, they are assigned a companion—a stranger—who spends all “non-hygiene-related time” with them for nine weeks before the companion is replaced with another. They are only allowed contact with family and friends once per week. And they have to pay for the privilege of doing this. The Church does not subsidize its missionaries.
Anderson emphasizes the loneliness. She lingers on the barren, spare quarters in which the subjects live. She uses long establishing shots of the landscape to show how small they are in this new country. She lingers on conversations that strain the viewer’s ability to handle social awkwardness.
In contrast to the aims of its subjects, the documentary itself is not preachy. It covers enough successful conversions and strengthening of faith to balance out the coverage of those dealing with doubt and existential despair. However, this balance is delivered at the surface level. We don’t really get to know any of the four subjects and what motivates them in any profound way. Their reasons for taking on this task, the logistics of the financial commitments, the cultural differences between Americans and Finns, and the missionaries’ personal struggles are only hinted at or covered at the depth one might expect while making small talk at a church bake sale.
The mission takes place between 2019 and 2021 and, unbelievably, it does not consider COVID-19 and the impact it had on a socially-focused pursuit, at all. Nothing about the fears these folks had at being stuck in a foreign country when the borders started closing. Nothing about how they reacted when millions of mink that had been culled from fur farms in nearby Denmark started to rise from the grave. There are some shots toward the end where the missionaries are wearing masks, but aside from that, the pandemic is completely erased from existence, much in the same way that you are likely to forget this entirely adequate documentary after you have watched it.