BLACK ROBE (1991)

Scene Analysis
1:21:12
Chomina Shows Respect

by
Jaime Miller


[1]  Robert Kilker concludes that though Black Robe “may at times pretend to equalize its perspectives of the French and Algonquins . . . it always recovers that balance, replacing it with a Eurocentric hierarchy.”  I felt just the opposite.  For me, Black Robe was based around Chomina, a true hero.  Chomina is a strong character who stands firm in his beliefs but respects the beliefs of others, which is why he is the essence of the movie.  As the movie progresses, the characters change, especially Laforgue, who comes to question his very identity as a Christian.  Chomina changes the least, however, and emerges as the film’s most powerful character.  His key trait is his ability to establish relationships that are founded on respect.  Chomina accepts outsiders, while staying true to his own culture.  He demonstrates how two cultures can co-exist, but not assimilate into one culture or the other.  The basis for this co-existence is respect – a respect that begins in respect for himself and spreads to respect for his tribe and respect for other cultures.

[2]  There is no better place to consider the character of Chomina and the central role he plays in the message of the film than in his death scene (1:21:12).  At his dying moment, Chomina is a humble man who recognizes his weaknesses, relaying to Annuka that he “is as greedy as the white man.”  But we know that he has always respected himself and has never acted on his greed.  A humble person, a man aware of his own weaknesses, is less liable to try to exert power over others.  This humble self-respect is the very basis of the ability to co-exist, to accept the “other.”

[3]  In addition, we see in this scene that Chomina respects traditional values.  Despite the constant persuading, he dies without being baptized so he can be with his people in the after-life.  Though he respects what Laforgue believes, he chooses not to follow him; rather, in accord with his tradition, he wants to die in the place he saw in his dream.  And, moreover, he wants those traditions to live on, even though his family has been virtually eliminated, so he tells Annuka that a dream showed him “Blackrobe walks alone,” hoping she will obey and continue to respect traditional values.

[4]  This scene also dramatizes the respect, even mutual respect, that could be the basis for co-existence.  In their “first contact,” Laforgue and Chomina embrace in a business-like fashion before Champlain and the assembled natives and colonists (0:08:00).  Here in their “final contact,” the two figuratively embrace once again, only with more emotion and more meaning.  Now Chomina and Laforgue share a bond.  Now, significantly, Chomina respects Laforgue as “my friend” and advises him that “no one should fear death” and that “even though the world is cruel, it is the sunlight.”

[5]  In the end, Laforgue respects Chomina’s resistance to conversion and, in effect,  baptizes him without baptizing him.  In a startling turn, Laforgue prays “Lord, I bid you, show your mercy to these savage people, who will never look upon your face in paradise.”  I feel this is the climatic point of the movie, the moment where two characters steadfast in their beliefs succumb to one another without succumbing.  Chomina dies with self-respect intact; Laforgue respects Chomina’s integrity and tries to find a place for it in his tradition.  In their final inevitable separation, there is more power than in their initial mechanical embrace.
 
 

Copyright (c) 2002 by Jaime Miller, Undergraduate Student at Lehigh University.

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