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.
—William Ernest Henley, Invictus
February 11, 1990 — Nelson Mandela finally walks free after 27 years behind bars. Four years later, he became the first black president of post-apartheid South Africa, bringing with him a platform of reconciliation between the white minority, who benefited the most from decades of racial segregation, and the black majority, who in turn suffered the most.
Mending South Africa's fractured identity, however, is easier said than done. Whites and blacks still distrust each other, and its national rugby team, the mostly-white Springboks, still bear the stigma of a bygone era. Not only were they a team of underachievers, but black audiences tend to root for anyone they play against. And after an embarrassing loss to England, the reorganized South African Sports Committee decides to disband the Springboks as relics of the apartheid era. Mandela, however, had other plans.
Still seeing some potential with the Springboks, Mandela personally summons its captain, 27-year-old Francois Pienaar, and places upon him a herculean task: to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup, to be hosted next year by South Africa.
Even as Pienaar encourages the Springboks to train harder, win more hearts, and make the new South Africa proud, Mandela casts a great gamble by publicly endorsing the team to the black majority as a step forward towards reconciliation. And as the clock ticks toward May 25, when the first fixture takes off at Cape Town, two unlikely allies must stand together if they want to see South Africa transcend race, even for just a moment.Invictus
is a 2009 film directed by Clint Eastwood
, starring Morgan Freeman
and Matt Damon
as Mandela and Pienaar, respectively.
And yes, South African rugby is Serious Business
. If you're not into big-league sports, then it may hard to believe that the future of South Africa can hinge on one sports team. Heck, Mandela's cabinet has trouble with the idea. If you are
into big-league sports and can step back for a moment, then it makes slightly more sense.
Based on John Carlin's Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation.
This film provides examples of:
- The Apartheid Era: The movie starts at the very end.
- Batman Gambit: The film (and the nonfiction book it is based on) essentially tells of Mandela's high-risk gamble to bring South Africa closer to reconciliation through what many considered a relic of its apartheid past.
- Big Game
- David Versus Goliath: Everybody vs. the apparently unstoppable Jonah Lomu.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: South Africa wins the tournament, and the film ends with Mandela, having personally handed the trophy to Pienaar, being driven away through the streets of Johannesburg, even as he watches South Africans of all colors rejoicing.
- Enemy Of My Enemy: Many black South Africans associate the Springboks with apartheid and therefore don't like them. When they go to rugby matches, they root for whatever team is playing against the Springboks. Mandela witnesses this happening in person at a rugby match and mentions to his staff that he and his fellow prison inmates used to do the same thing. Of course, such attitudes have changed dramatically by the end of the film.
- Epiphany Therapy: Pienaar and his rugby team visiting Mandela's prison cell.
- Follow the Leader: Soon after this movie, the Biopic Winnie was announced, about the life of Nelson's estranged wife, Winnie Mandela, starring Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard as Winnie and Nelson Mandela.
- Foregone Conclusion: It's based on a true story, after all.
- Huddle Shot: Several.
- I Coulda Been a Contender: Pinaar's wife comments that the sports reporter who won't stop ripping into the Springboks team is just bitter because the team was boycotted when he played for them, so they never competed internationally.
- Literary Allusion Title: The title comes from William Ernest Henley's poem, which Mandela recites in the movie.
- Notable Original Music: "9,000 Days Invictus" and "Colorblind", both written by Clint Eastwood and performed by the South African a capella group Overtone.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Morgan Freeman sounds not at all like anybody from South Africa, particularly Nelson Mandela.
- Oscar Bait
- Redemption Quest: The entire country.
- Rugby Is Slaughter: Averted. To the extent that rugby is depicted at all (much of the film focuses on the social divide in South Africa, with rugby being a metaphor for Mandela's quest to unite the new "Rainbow Nation"), it is depicted as a serious, full-contact sport which occasionally features injuries, rather than an all-out bloodbath. In other words, it's depicted accurately.
- Serious Business: Rugby. Several shots show deserted streets and bars overcrowded with people watching the big game.
- Mandela is seen working around matters of state — trade relations with Asia, for instance — to deal with Springbok-related matters or watch their games, even before the big ones.
- And there was the fact that South Africa was not a favorite in the World Cup, yet in 1995 they did end up winning it. The fact that they were the host country made it all the more important — the whole world was watching the newly-"reconciled" country.
- Side Bet: Mandela and New Zealand PM Bolger have a bet on the final match. Bolger first offers all his country's goats against all the diamonds of South Africa. Mandela chuckled and instead suggests the wager be a nice case of wine.
- Slo Mo: Seen a few times.
- Spot of Tea: "The English have given us many things, including Rugby, but afternoon tea... that is the greatest."
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: The black and white members of Mandela's bodyguard team. Eventually however, they get over it.
- Those Two Guys: Two of the bodyguards appear recurrently, showing the evolution of feelings between blacks and whites.
- Token Minority: Chester Williams was the only black player for the Springboks in 1995. This is actually Truth in Television.
- Where It All Began: Before the final against New Zealand, Mandela brings the Springboks to Robben Island, the notorious penal colony where he spent his first 18 years in jail. Pienaar and the rest of the team are amazed at how Mandela could survive years in nigh-inhumane conditions and still come out extending a hand of forgiveness to the very people who made his life a living hell.
- Worf Had the Flu: IRL, the All Blacks were largely suffering from food poisoning. Conspiracy theories abound about a fictional "Suzy the Waitress".