Invictus: The true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team, Francois Pienaar, to help unite their country. Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match. (Plot synopsis from Yahoo! Movies.
There are sports movies, and then there are movies like Invictus, where sports becomes a backdrop upon which larger themes are worked out. In this film, rugby becomes more than a sport – it is one of the ways that Nelson Mandela brings his country together into the Rainbow Nation.
After spending 27 years in prison for working against apartheid, Nelson Mandela is elected as president in the first completely democratic South African election. He is faced with the impossible challenge of bringing together the blacks and whites of the country, people who have been raised and fed on hatred, fear, and bigotry. The blacks have much reason to hate the whites and to want to celebrate Mandela’s election as revenge. Mandela, however, will not allow that.
He comes into office with a goal of reconciliation, which starts with forgiveness. Can you imagine? He offers jobs to all the staffers of the previous administration, even though some of these staffers were working with a president who imprisoned him! The depth of his forgiveness and grace and mercy is simply unfathomable.
To the blacks of South Africa, rugby, and their national team, the Springboks, are symbols of apartheid. The newly elected sports administration wants to simply disband the team and start over, but Mandela knows that this will do more to tear the country apart than fix the wounds of the past. With his encouragement, the Springboks continued as the country’s team, and under the president’s instruction, they embark on a tour of coaching clinics in villages all over the country. Soon, rugby is the national sport, not simply the white man’s sport. When South Africa makes it to the 1995 World Cup, their ability to beat the New Zealand team is doubtful – but the entire country is cheering them on.
Invictus is brilliantly directed by Clint Eastwood, and stars the inestimable Morgan Freeman as Mandela. Matt Damon costars as Francois Pienaar, the captain of the Springboks. (On a side note: I am continually amazed at the versatility and talent displayed by Damon, especially as we recently watched The Informant!, in which he plays a completely different character, and does so to an equal degree of believability.)
This truly is a must-see movie.
If you would like to read the text of the poem that inspired the title, the poem that kept Mandela determined to prevail through all those years in prison, you can read it here.