Invictus (Clint Eastwood, 2009)
Morgan Freeman (Nelson Mandela), Matt Damon (François Pienaar). Screenplay by Anthony Peckham. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Rating: 12. Running time: 134 minutes.
How do you inspire people to be even greater than they think they are? That was the question Nelson Mandela faced, after landing the Presidency at age 76 after 27 years in prison. South Africa still ached from its history of racial tension and segregation. Blacks wanted what they considered justice, and what Mandela considered revenge. He knew greater foresight was needed if he was to heal the nation, and with the hosting of the rugby World Cup soon to arrive after he took office, he got to work.
The most shocking thing about Eastwood’s film from the year before, Changeling, was the fact that it was perfectly true. The same goes for Invictus. To think a team that was regularly butchered by its opposition a year before the tournament and represented so much historical oppression due to its white-dominance could not only end up winning the World Cup on home turf, but also unite a nation through the power of sport and its accompanying spirit, should be the stuff of fantasy, not reality. But it happened. Mandela saw the potential, and he used it to its full advantage.
This is shown no better and with the softest of touches by Eastwood. There’s the footage that made national television of the ‘Springboks’ visiting the slums and teaching black children how to play rugby, which Mandela smirks at, knowing how scenes like that are worth more than a thousand speeches. We watch in detail the relationship between his bodyguards, who start out all being black but soon reflecting and embodying the new Rainbow nation when, demanding more man power, Mandela assigns some of the very white policemen that probably trampled on them in the past to help out with his security. They’re suspicious of each other at first, but with the progression of the national team towards the final, and continuous cooperation and joint observation of the crowds, they become as harmonious as South Africa needed them its citizens to be on a national scale were the country to survive the threat of Civil War.
It all feels so joyful and packed with hope; Eastwood uses so much upbeat African music and emphasises the crowd’s roars at matches to an incredible extent, and it really pumps up Invictus’ atmosphere and power as a film. My favourite moment comes, however, in its most unusual moment, and it’s one that feels entirely out of place with the flow and feel of what we see. Before the final, two white men intriguingly observe the Cape Town skyline with binoculars. Then we see them flying a plane towards the stadium, and then we see them talking as if, yes, they’re about to perform a terrorist attack. We know this can’t happen; we would have heard about it. And we know Eastwood can’t make it happen, without making this the most absurd film in history. But we nevertheless become confused for a split second, and bad thoughts linger as they do in the minds of Mandela’s devout but workaholic bodyguards who see the jet in the distance. It swoops down, and swoops back up, revealing a message on the bottom of the plane reading ‘Good luck, Bokke!’
Why do we doubt it? Why are we so cynical, pessimistic, whatever you want to call it? It’s a bizarre moment, but it draws out our prejudices and asks us to rid them for rationality’s sake. Mandela would ask us to be more faithful, and rightly so. Invictus shows him, sport and humanity in general, quite simply, at its awe-inspiring best.
Filed under: inspiration, politics, sport | 1 Comment
Tags: apartheid, cape town, civil war, clint eastwood, cynicism, faith, francois pienaar, invictus, matt damon, morgan freeman, nelson mandela, optimism, pessimism, racial tension, robben island, rugby, segregation, slums, south africa, springboks, terrorism, world cup