BLACK ROBE (1991)

Sound Bites

1)  This is a text totally without reflexivity or irony.  As a vision of the traditional clash of cultures in times past, Black Robe is still pegged to the structures of old, to the stereotypes which inhabit the diegetic world of the western.  Indeed, it operated as a classic text of the western genre: lone stranger arrives in isolated community, sets its troubles right, then moves on.  (Jane Freebury 122)

2)  To impose on the narratives the Jesuits wrote of their own lives Laforgue's contemptible timidity, sexual panic, and lack of faith is not to take a novelist's freedom to create a different kind of story with its own laws and its own authenticity.  Rather, Black Robe attempts to devalue and mock the Jesuit stories, by almost slavishly imitating their accout of the externals of circumstance and action while also denigrating the qualities of mind and spirit of those long dead priests to whom, after all, the experiences narrated in the Relations belong.  (Jeanne A. Flood 52)

3)  In an era of Columbus bashing, it [Black Robe] criticizes cultural imperialism without creating villains; it is as politically correct as "Dances with Wolves," but its hero does not experience a simple-minded conversion to Indian ways, as if he had been bumped on the head.  There is much wrongheaded behavior in "Black Robe," but no evil intentions, which makes the cultural tug of war it depicts sadder and more lucid than it usually is on screen.  (Caryn James 24)

4)  [New York Times film critic Caryn] James's smug accolade is, to be sure, partly true.  But it is at least equally false.  What she really means is that Black Robe contains no white villains, and that this is what counts in her ever so "balanced" scheme of things.  The handling of the indigenous victims of Europe's "cultural imperialism" is another matter entirely.  (Ward Churchill 124)

5)  The Indians call the Jesuits Blackrobes, and the film begins brilliantly with a widescreen shot of blackness that begins to move and proves to be Laforgue's cloak seen from the back.  What better visual metaphor for ambiguity?  (John Simon 48)

6)  Moore--who adopted Black Robe's script from his own novel--complained in a Maclean's interview that Montreal actor Lothaire Bluteau was too "unsympathetic" in the lead role as a young French Jesuit missionary in the New World.  (Brian D. Johnson 72)

7)  I will not reveal the conclusion of the film, other than to say that when it was over, I sat there in a state of depressed suspension, wondering if that could possibly be all there was.  Matters were not helped by the words that appeared on the screen at the end, telling us what happened during the years to follow.  It was as if the entire story of "Black Robe" was a prelude to nothing.  (Roger Ebert)

8)  This [Black Robe] is no northern Dances with Wolves; this is, in essence, a religious debate.  (Catherine Dunphy D18)

9)  Was Le Jeune himself as conscious of his own ethnocentrism and sense of cultural superiority?  Yes, since he often called attention to it in comparisons favourable to the Savages.  But one should not be surprised that he believed in objective superiority and inferiority.  His seventeenth century was an age of intellectual intolerance, of growing nationalism and war, but also of great religious conviction and new expressions of Christian charity in action, if development in the arts and sciences.  Le Jeune was proud of its achievements.  He was making first contact with peoples still living, technologically, in the stone age, extremely small nations without writing or printing, unlike even the ancient Chinese, Greeks and Romans.  He found among them no authors, painters, musicians, architects, and little in other arts and crafts to compare with what he had known in France and Europe.  In particular, they had no sacred printed documents like the Bible, God's Word handed down over thousands of years through the Jewish people and the Church.  In 1634, he certainly displayed an attitude of European superiority in his judgements regarding Indian material arts, economics, education, and religion, as well as in certain moral traits.  (Charles Principe 39)

10)  If there is a distinction to be drawn between the nazis' antisemitic cinema and the handling of indigenous subject matters in contemporary North America, it is that the former were designed to psychologically prepare an entire populace to accept a genocide which was even then on the verge of occurring.  The latter is pitched more to rationalizing and redeeming a process of conquest and genocide which has already transpired.  (Ward Churchill 130)
 
 

Copyright (c) 2000 by Robert F. Kilker, Graduate Student at Lehigh University.

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