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 chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Invictus is a Latin word that means Unconquered. It is also a poem written by the British Poet William Ernest Henley, first published in 1875 and presented in part above this paragraph as well as towards the end of this post. And, as you may have heard, Invictus is the title of the new film by Clint Eastwoood.
So what is the movie about? As the movie begins we learn that Nelson Mandela had just been elected as President of South Africa. We join him and his body guards for a pre-dawn walk. Later that same morning he is being driven to the capital building for his 1st day in office.
The newspaper columns trumpet: He won an election but can he lead the country? His bodyguards cry out, that on his first day in office, they’re already out to get him. Mandela, played charismatically by Morgan Freeman replies, It is a legitimate question.
So we immediately are shown the fairness of the man. Historically, we already know of his bravery and courage. Mandela spent 27 years of his life incarcerated in prison. His time at the Robbens Island prison consisted of life in a 6 x 9 cell or hard labor of breaking rocks.
His task as President? To change the image of his country from being known as the skunk of the world due to the former policy of apartheid, to that of a multi-racial democracy. His methodology: forgiveness, reconciliation, and negotiation.
But the film is not a full bio of Mandela. The concerns of the film are that he was not afraid of taking chances to unify his country. Instead of firing many of the white federal employees in the office of the president and replacing them with blacks, he begged the whites to stay. He had no wish to be perceived as filled with revenge.
When his chief of security asked for more men to help protect the President as well as the Presidency, Mandela hired the security men from the former President F.W.de Klerk’s staff. All were white. When the chief complained to Mandela, about not being able to trust these Afrikaners, he was told to deal with it as that was the way it was going to be like it or not.
Finally, Mandela chose the white Afrikaner’s favorite sport Rugby as the means to unite the country. As a contrast, the blacks in South Africa favored soccer.
When the now integrated security section had the time, they took turns baiting each other. The discussion often turned to sports. The Afrikaner said, In this country, Soccer is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, and Rugby is a hooligans game played by gentlemen. His black counterpart replied that he’d heard that joke before. It wasn’t funny then, and it isn’t funny now.
So Mandela invites the Captain of the Springboks, the South African National Rugby team, to his office in the Capital for afternoon tea.
Matt Damon portrays this Captain, Francois Pienaar. Mandela wanted to impart to Pienaar how a victory in the Rugby World Cup, to be held in South Africa in 1995 could unite the country.
Though the role was not written for Matt Damon, he did an excellent job as Pienaar. He was Captain of the team despite his size. Though smaller than most of his teammates in physical stature, so he led by example. In reality, I think Eastwood hired Damon to sell tickets. Which is fine with me. I’m just saying that Damon did not make this film better than it might have been without his presence.
As Pienaar, Damon had three memorable lines. Remember, he was tasked by Mandela to lift his teammates and drive them to victory.
First: … I was thinking how a man could spend thirty years in prison, and come out and forgive the men who did it to him…
Third: To his team in the height of the deciding Rugby Championship match – Do you hear? Listen to your country. This is it! This is our destiny!
Mandela had survived his 9000 days in prison in part through courage and bravery but also in part by having Henley’s poem on a paper. Mandela then passed these words (the poem Invictus) on to Pienaar.
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 punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
While some might say that this movie is another cliched sports film about an improbable victory, Eastwood does deliver more to us than just a rousing and inspirational two hours. While the film is not at all any kind of technical marvel, nor a showcase of this director’s virtuosity… one thing is for sure, you will leave the theater fairly satisfied but not thrilled.