Cultural Values, beliefs, and traditions that separate Father Laforgue and Daniel from the Algonquin and how it influences their perception of each other
Clashing cultural values, beliefs, and traditions: Black Robe
The film Black Robe depicts the culture clash that occurs when Jesuit priests enter the Canadian wilderness and attempt to convert the native population to Christianity. Father Laforgue and his translator Daniel head into a land they know little about, into a culture they regard as primitive. Daniel, in contrast to the ‘black robed’ priest, falls in love with a native woman and embraces what he sees as the more sensual, vital lifestyle of the Native Americans, while Laforgue holds back from what he sees as native savagery and ignorance. However, both men regard the Huron Indians through an essentially Western worldview.
The Indians do not view matters of the body as disgusting, unlike the priest. The Christian ideal of asceticism is to transport the individual into the spiritual realm above the physical realm. Early on, when Laforgue is forced to ‘relieve himself’ during a canoe ride, the natives laugh, while Laforgue is clearly disgusted about having to do what he regards as a gross and dehumanizing action in public. It may be natural, but Laforgue wishes to deny such bodily practices, while the Indians are more amused by his disgust than the action itself.
This Western desire to distance one’s self beyond from the material comes into even sharper relief when Laforgue begins preaching about heaven to the native population. Unlike the dogmatic Christians of the West, the Algonquin tribe is willing to at least listen to the words of the ‘Black Robe.’ However, they grow bored very quickly with the priest’s tales of paradise. In heaven, Laforgue preaches, there is no smoking, drinking, and sexuality. The Indians reply that such a place is not paradise to them, which frustrates Laforgue. He is used to preaching to sinners who, however fallen, believe in one God, one hell, and one heaven and who desire salvation and fear damnation. For the Indians, no place without their ancestors and without the pleasures of the material world is heaven. They do not wish to dwell in a place so different from their everyday world, so they are unsympathetic to the words of Laforgue. Eventually, the natives do accept baptism from Laforgue, but it is clearly because of superstition and hopes that it will help defend themselves against the violent Iroquois with whom they are at war, not because they have truly adopted a Christian, French worldview.
The translator Daniel initially seems like a more sympathetic figure than Laforgue because he loves a native woman and is more willing to adapt to the culture of the natives. However, the fact that he regards the natives as primitive and exotic is no better, the narrative suggests, than Laforgue’s black-and-white view. Eventually, Daniel’s misconceptions are underlined when he is being tortured, along with the other Huron, by the rival Iroquois tribe. Daniel says idealistically that the Huron would never act in such a manner, and that the Iroquois are animals, but the Huron chief tells him that this is the way of native warfare, and that the Huron would not have behaved differently, had they been in a superior position.
Eventually, the Huron do convert, battered down by warfare and the elements. In an addendum, the film notes that their civilization was eventually destroyed soon after the tribe became Christian. Regardless, both natives and Christians exhibit many similar follies of superstition and miscommunication over the course of the film. Both Christians and natives show nobility and malice, bravery and cruelty, but redemption eludes both Laforgue and Daniel, despite their different views on faith and native culture. The divide between the Huron and the Jesuits are too great for them to truly understand one another, and by striving to change their culture, the Jesuits merely contribute to the Huron’s destruction.
Black Robe. Directed by Bruce Beresford. 1991.