Archive for December, 2009

Invictus or How To Be The Master Of Your Fate

Who knew rugby could be this important? Back in 1995, the year in which this film is set, I was a teenager living in Pretoria, South Africa. I couldn’t care less about sports and tried not to think too much about politics either. But even I, at the time, felt pangs of pride as the Springboks tackled, ran and kicked their way to victory. I remember sitting nervously in front of the television as three South Africans only barely managed to bring Lomu to a halt. Jonah Lomu, the Goliath of rugby that year, a New Zealand Kiwi, seemed unbeatable.

Invictus does a wonderful job of recreating the anticipation and nervousness in South Africa one year after Nelson Mandela was pronounced president. The country was still young and wobbly. In a country awash in uncertainty, Nelson Mandela preached a message of forgiveness and reconciliation that transcended cultural and ethnic borders and offered hope to an entire nation. I remember, vaguely, the controversy over the green and gold colours of the South African rugby uniform. But, at the time, I didn’t grasp the political machinations at work behind all of this.

Invictus’s political backdrop was illuminating even to me: Nelson Mandela understood, as some of his fellow cabinet members did not, that though the power balance had shifted, the economic health of South Africa still depended on the success, expertise, and cooperation of white business owners. Rugby was an integral part of Afrikaner culture and a powerful tool for building trust. Mandela understood that forging relationships with his former enemies was the only way to ensure a strong future for his own people. He understood, in fact, that his tribe included his enemies.

The performances are solid throughout, especially Morgan Freeman’s: he seemingly effortlessly captures the spirit of Mandela, including his patience, courage, and enjoyment of sports. His accent sometimes slips but not enough to be jarring. Matt Damon’s performance as Francois Pienaar, the Afrikaner captain of the Springboks, is subdued and earnest. I was appreciative that Eastwood did not resort to demonizing the Afrikaner. As with his previous film, Gran Torino, he exhibits a deep understanding of the ironies and contradictions inherent in racial prejudices.

The music could have been toned down a bit and the scenes with the secondary characters felt sentimental at times (for example, when Pienaar brings home tickets for the final rugby game and offers one to the maid). But overall I enjoyed this ride back into the world of my childhood. With movies such as District 9 and Invictus South Africa is making its presence felt on the pop culture radar of the world–this time, bearing a message of hope, not hate.

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December 30, 2009 at 5:44 am Leave a comment


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