Invictus (2010) Directed by Clint Eastwood.
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Brenda Mazibuko: You're risking your political capital; you're risking your future as our leader.
Nelson Mandela: The day I am afraid to do that is the day I am no longer fit to lead.
Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 24 years at hard labor for speaking out against the system of Apartheid, government sanctioned racial segregation. After being released from prison, he went on to bring about the end of Apartheid, and become the first black President of South Africa. The problems facing him were overwhelming, none more so than the entrenched distrust of the two races for each other. Mandela needed a tool to break down those barriers. And he found it, in a most unusual place.
In South Africa there are two races, and two sports. The blacks play soccer and the whites, Rugby. And the national Rugby team is the Springboks, the old green and gold. With a horrendous season behind them, and the new black power sweeping the nation, there was talk of abolishing the team. In his time imprisoned on Robben Island, Mandela (Morgan Freeman) remembered cheering for anyone who played the Springboks. That was how deep the resentment against the white regime. Now, in his first days of office he has to move sharply to prevent the Sports Commission from dissolving the National Rugby team.
His purpose in doing this was multilayered. First, it was to prevent the white resentment that would inevitably follow. Second, it was an exercise in forgiveness. Third, he had bigger plans, but he needed help, and to that end he invited the captain of the Springboks to meet with him.
François Pienaar (Matt Damon) is a big blond burly boy; bright, ambitious, talented; a perfect example of Afrikaner. And with the honor and prestige of a presidential visit, there is no way Pienaar could refuse. Nor would he want to. But the meeting was not what he expected. Informal, pleasant, the meeting is not really about Rugby, or politics, but about leadership. When he got out to the car, Nerine asked what was that about? His bewildered reply, "I think he wants us to win the world cup."
That's a tall order for the last placed team of the league. But it is no greater than the challenges facing Mandela. But François is impressed with his new president. He ponders the power of the man to forgive so much.
Nerine: Thinking about tomorrow?
Francois Pienaar: No. Tomorrow's taken care of, one way or another. I was thinking about how you spend 30 years in a tiny cell, and come out ready to forgive the people who put you there.
And that call to greatness inspires François, and he in turn inspires the Springboks. Nor does Mandela leave it at a chat with the team captain. He also requests, in addition to their vigorous training schedule, that they run a series of training camps for the underprivileged (black) children of the nation. There the Springboks get a lesson as they see the reverence that their sole black team mate Chester is held in by the black kids.
Nor are the changes all on the Rugby field. When considering his personal security, Mandela hired the most qualified men. Those were the security agents that protected the Apartheid president. White men; angry looking white cops with guns, the exact same force of oppression that they suffered under for so many years. Mandela's personal bodyguard, Jason Tshabalala (Tony Kgoroge) is less than happy about it; when he confronts Mandela about it, here is what he says:
Jason Tshabalala: There are four Special Branch cops in my office.
Nelson Mandela: Why, what did you do?
The Rainbow Coalition starts here, and now. Watch the four Special Branch and the Four Tribal Guards, and the riding arrangements as the movie progresses.
This movie is history. The end is known, and it moves as history dictates. But far more important than the facts of the case is the emotional impact on the peoples of South Africa, represented by Pienaar family on one hand, and the Blacks of the government on the other. The black majority hated the Springboks as a symbol of the old regime of segregation. They always cheered for the other team. But Mandela's public support of the Boks, and the efforts they put forward, both on the field, and in the schoolyards, began to bear fruit. With each win, the fervor behind the team grew. From the joke of the league, they became the heroes. And slowly, the crowds began to fall in love with the Springboks.
Mandela knew that taking the Springboks away from the whites would cause resentment. He also knows that forgiving the Springboks would help his people learn to forgive other things. And perhaps most importantly, now when a black man and a white man were stuck standing at a bus stop, they had something to talk about. It sounds silly. It is silly. But it is profoundly human, and profoundly true. As the Springboks leapt over the opposition until at last they faced the New Zealand All Blacks, famed for their Maori war dance, and the fierceness of their play, with each victory, they won more and more hearts to their cause. Everyone loves the underdog who can rise above. And when they were cheering in the stands, they were not black, nor white, they were South African.
Of course, no story is any better than the storytellers. There are no complaints here. John Carlin's book provided all the source material for a gripping drama. Clint Eastwood provided brilliant direction. And of the Actors, Matt Damon; was there any doubt he would be great? But the performance of the movie is Morgan Freeman. Morgan is the choice Nelson Mandela personally made to play himself. Nor was he wrong. It is amazing the way he captures the movement of the leader, his body stiffened and fragile from his years at hard labor, his spirit and compassion still unbeaten.
Unbeaten. That is what the word Invictus means. The title comes from a Poem by William Ernest Henley. It inspired Nelson Mandela to survive his imprisonment. He used it to inspire Pienaar. It reads:
Out of the night that covers me, black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of fate, my head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears, looms but the horror of the shade, and yet, the menace of the years finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishment the scroll,
I am the master of my fate - I am the captain of my soul.
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Movie Mood: Serious Movie
Film Completeness: Looked complete to me.