Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Last night we watched what should have been selected as last year's Best Picture at the Oscars. Don't get me wrong. I saw The Hurt Locker. It was an excellent film. A powerful story that needed to be told.

Invictus was better. An uplifting story based on true events is always more inspiring than a depressing story based on real situations. Inspirational qualities of course don't necessarily make a film great, but this one was.

Invictus is a simple film about Nelson Mandela, the newly elected president of South Africa who has only just been released from prison, and his desire to keep the traditions of the national rugby side: their colors, their symbol, their nickname: The Springboks.

Nelson Mandela is played by Morgan Freeman, in my opinion one of the greatest actors of the modern era. Matt Damon plays Francois Pienaar, the Afriakaaner captain of the team. Mr. Damon is of course not quite the accomplished thespian that Mr. Freeman is but in my opinion he has recently proven himself to be much more diverse than I would have thought after Good Will Hunting and Chasing Amy. His South African accent is a bit better than Leonardo DiCaprio's from Blood Diamond, more subtle, but then his role is also less prominent. Clint Eastwood also continues to prove as the director that he can do much more than act tough.

Anyway the film is of course just a very thin slice of the topic of Mandela, South Africa, Apartheid, Political Prisoners and Human Rights. It takes all these weighty subjects and focuses them into the idea of Mandela supporting the Springboks and doing everything he can to see that they win the Rugby World Cup that was hosted in South Africa in 1995.

A very simple overview of history to better understand the South Africa situation: South Africa is the southernmost country in the diverse continent of Africa. It contains what is known as the Cape of Good Hope. In the 1600's the Dutch East India trading company was regularly sailing around this cape to reach India and Asia for trade. They eventually formed the Dutch settlement Cape Town which is now a modern city.

Long story short the Dutch continued to settle in South Africa and after fighting over territory with the British several times eventually the modern government and power structure in the nation ended up being run almost exclusively by whites known as Afrikaaners or Afrikaans. This set up a rather unique situation in South Africa because although racism has existed for eons in many places it is rare that the minority is in power oppressing the vast majority as was the case in South Africa during Apartheid.

Before I go on forever about all this backstory basically Nelson Mandela spent over thirty years as a political prisoner of the white government. They incarcerated him for nothing more than speaking out against Apartheid. In the film as in real life he is released from prison and quickly elected the president of the new democratic government.

I don't know how true to real life the film is but I suspect there is some poetic license. In the film Mandela decides to support the Sringboks, who represent all things Afrikaan and Apartheid to his people. He decides that he wants to bring the nation together, not to divide it.

I won't give away the whole plot but I'm sure it's pretty obvious what happens. That being said this is a great film because it tells a fun little part of the story of a great, great man. Nelson Mandela was one of those rare people who lead with a passion for the human condition. Like the Dalai Llama, Mohandes Ghandi, and even Jesus Christ he had that rare quality of forgiveness for his tormentors that has inspired entire cultures so many times.

There is a great line from the film when Matt Damon is talking about Mandela after visiting his old prison cell and he says:

"I was thinking how a man could spend thirty years in prison, and come out and forgive the men who did it to him..."

Mandela uses the Springboks as an example to his countrymen of this kind of forgiveness. That is leadership.

The film is actually named after a poem written in 1875 by English poet William Ernest Henley titled Invictus, which means Unconquered in Latin. Supposedly Mandela read the poem to himself often while he was in prison and it inspired him to many things. This may or may not be true, I have not looked it up, but the poem IS rather inspiring nonetheless. I will share it with you here:

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.

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.

These are beautiful, powerful words and I think they fit quite appropriately with the subject of the struggles of the nation of South Africa and its people. Things are by no means perfect there but I look forward to enjoying the FIFA World Cup this summer which takes place in South Africa as well.

Hopefully this nation and its people will continue to improve their condition and have a bright future ahead of them.

Sorry for the rambling post but I was late to work this morning and had to throw this together without any preparation. I'm only reading it once to proof it, so please forgive the errors that surely will slip through.


Christina Lee said...

I heard it was a good movie. That poem is beautiful!
I also think Star Trek was overlooked at the Oscars-- and no I'm not a Trekkie, but hey, LIVE LONG AND PROSPER Hee Hee!

Unknown said...

I have heard good things about the movie so it's something that I'm still considering. I don't know if it's my cup of tea though. I do love the actors though so they will probably draw me in!

Awesome poem Matthew!!

I haven't seen the Hurt Locker, I think that is a war related movie, and I can't handle those types of movies.

Bryan Russell said...

Yeah, it was a great film. I just watched it a week or two ago. And you can't really go wrong when two of your three favourite actors are in it.

Though, I must say Hurt Locker was pretty brilliant too. That's a great film, and that would be a tough call on my part. Though certainly Invictis is a far more buoyant and uplifting film.

Candyland said...

Haven't seen it yet, but it sounds good. What a great story.

Unknown said...

I'm looking forward to seeing this film. When I was in the Peace Corps, a trio of Afrikaans were driving from Europe to South Africa, and they spent two days camped outside my house while they restocked their supplies. It was fascinating and jarring to hear them talk about Apartheid and the history of South Africa, from the point of view of white men whose families had lived in South Africa for hundreds of years.

Great post, Matt!

Jaydee Morgan said...

Glad to hear your thoughts on this. My son just bought this DVD and has been trying to get me to watch it. I think I'll have to give it a watch for sure.

JE said...

I'm so sad. I haven't seen either. I don't get out I like that poem, though. ;-)


Karen Jones Gowen said...

My husband and I went to see this film largely because our son is currently in South Africa. He gets home in August and I'm looking forward to hearing more about what it's like there. He said there is so much racism.

Lydia Kang said...

I haven't seen this movie but I'm dying to. So strangely fitting as the World Cup is there too.

S.A. Larsenッ said...

I know some of the story--Dad's a history buff--but haven't seen the movie. I've heard it was powerful. Side note: that poem is wonderful. Thanks for posting it, Matt.

Emily White said...

Hmmm...I may have to check this movie out.

Tahereh said...

wow thanks for the review, Matt! i've never seen it before! ahhh now i have to add MOVIES to my TBR/Watched pile!


Laura S. said...

I heard this movie was good, and now your review has me convinced! I must add it to my Netflix queue. :)

Awesome poem. If that doesn't give you a kick in the rear, I don't know what will!

Courtney Barr - The Southern Princess said...

Awesome! I love this film and am glad you did a post about it. The poem = inspiring.

As always a pleasure to stop by!

Visit My Kingdom Anytime

Giles Hash said...

I never saw the movie. And you're the first person I've seen who actually liked it. Most of the people I know who saw it said it was boring... however... in just over a week we get THE WORLD CUP! First game in our bracket is USA vs. England! Both of my teams are playing each other for the first game!

Sorry, just excited for it :)

Vicki Rocho said...

A couple years ago my English class (Comp I & II rolled together) focused the whole semester on Apartheid. Everything we read and wrote was related in some way.

At first, I was dreading it. I just don't do serious. I like writing silly fluff pieces that make people laugh.

There is NOTHING funny about Apartheid. I was doomed.

In the end though, I was glad to have had the experience. I learned a lot. I also cried a lot. It was a very emotional class. The atrocities. The extraordinary acts of kindness. The struggles, the hope.

I don't know if I can make myself watch Invictus though. I'd probably love it, no doubt, but it's so ...... serious.

Renae said...

Love the poem but I have to admit I haven't seen this movie either. Guess I'll have to add it to the list.

Great blog by the way!

j.leigh.bailey said...

I loved this story. In a lot of ways the movie itself was kind of boring, but the story was fantastic. And Morgan Freeman is amazing. I don't think it was meant to be particularly exciting... it was supposed to be inspirational and thought provoking so I guess it did it's job. Great post!

Jessica Bell said...

Wow that movie sound amazing. I definitely should put that on my mental to see list.

I know a lot of South Africans. There are SO many here in Greece. I've met some really AMAZING kind hearted, people from Africa, but also met some that, for lack of a better expression to show my disgust, I would want to spit on them after hearing the way they talk about native Africans. I've always wondered why they think so badly of other races. I've nver understood how people can be racist in general, to be honest.

MBW aka Olleymae said...

Sounds like a great movie. I haven't watched it yet, but I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the review :)

Old Kitty said...

I love the Hurt Locker - thoroughly enjoyed watching this! Unfortunately I missed Invictus when it was shown here in the UK - but after reading your review - I might just seek it out on dvd. Thanks
Take care

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Morgan Freeman rocks in every movie.
The Hurt Locker was good, but not Oscar-good. I didn't really connect with it and forgot it completely thirty minutes later.

Talli Roland said...

I haven't seen Invictis, but I have to say I really didn't like Hurt Locker very much.

Lindsay said...

Oooo, I haven't seen Invictus yet. I want to though. Thanks for the review of it.

Arlee Bird said...

The Hurt Locker was good, but I don't think it was Best Picture worthy. I still haven't seen Invictus, but I did see the other South Africa movie, District 9, which I thought was very good.

Tossing It Out

Unknown said...

I really should get out to the movies more. The last one I saw was NEW MOON. Yes, I am embarrassed to admit that. ;)

Stephanie Lorée said...

Invictus has been one of my favorite poems for a long time.

Anita said...

Husband and I think Matt Damon is great, but we rented that really stupid movie he was in recently... the movie that was supposed to be funny and wasn't. Anyway, we were reluctant to watch INVICTUS because of the previous failure...thanks to this post, we'll check it out. Gracias!

WritingNut said...

Great post! It's on my list to watch, but haven't gotten around to it yet.

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