Follow TV Tropes


Film / Invictus

Go To
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

Invictus is a 2009 film directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.

February 11, 1990 — Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) finally walks free after twenty-seven 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, twenty-seven year old François Pienaar (Matt Damon), 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.

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 '90s: Set at the start of the decade.
  • Adaptation Title Change: Noted in the descriptive text above.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: The film makes it out that by 1994, the rugby team is still in very poor shape and has a string of disastrous results following their opening game against England, making for a much more tense film environment. In real life, the team actually fared much better: they beat England in the second match, and over the course of the year drew with New Zealand (undoubtedly the best team in the world), and beat Scotland and Wales. South Africa were also considered to be favourites after Australia and New Zealand to win the World Cup, as opposed to the film claiming that no one gave them a chance.
  • 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.
  • Battle in the Rain: The semifinal against France.
  • Big Game: The championship rugby game gets a strong amount of attention.
  • Call-Back: When Mandela visits the Springboks to wish them luck before their first World Cup game, they give him a cap with their logo on it, and he tells them he's honored. When he arrives at the stadium for the final, he's wearing the cap with a replica of Pienaar's jersey.
  • Climactic Music: Thousands of South African fans enthusiastically singing "Shosholoza" during the World Cup final.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Mandela's main goal as President is to break this between the white and black South Africans. It's also why he argues against shutting down the Springboks, pointing out that it's a petty act of revenge that will only further embitter the white South Africans.
  • 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 when they listened to rugby on the radio. 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.
  • Foregone Conclusion: It's Based on a True Story, after all.
  • Huddle Shot: Several between the team during rehearsal and there games.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: Pienaar'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.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Morgan Freeman at times.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Morgan Freeman sounds not at all like anybody from South Africa, particularly Nelson Mandela.
  • Oscar Bait: A historical drama promoting racial harmony that was released less than a month before the end of the year.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: Mandela is President Personable. He heaps praise and compliments on everyone around him, buys a bodyguard a box of English toffees while on a state trip to the UK because he happened to hear that the man liked them, and insists that his protection detail always smile, even when shoving people away during crowd control.
  • Precision F-Strike: When Pienaar gives a pep talk to the team as they face a dominating Lomu:
    Pienaar: Can't allow Lomu to get the ball in space. He's freaking killing us. But listen, if Lomu gets the ball, whoever's there... James, Joost... hit the fucking guy, hold onto him, hold him. Help will come, help will be there.
  • Racist Grandpa: Pienaar's father is not a Mandela fan and spends a lot of his scenes griping about him.
  • 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 sheep against all the gold of South Africa. Mandela chuckles and instead suggests the wager be a nice case of wine.
  • Sidelong Glance Biopic: The story of Nelson Mandela and post-Apartheid reconstruction in South Africa... as seen by the national rugby team.
  • Slo Mo: Seen a few times.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: The black and white members of Mandela's bodyguard team. Eventually however, they get over it.
  • Those Two Guys: An evolving example among the bodyguards. At the beginning, Mandela's two main bodyguards have this vibe. Then, once the bodyguard detail is integrated, each of them gets paired up with one of the white bodyguards, making two new Those Two Guys pairings (although the one with the junior men gets more focus). Both pairs of bodyguards show the evolution of feelings between blacks and whites (from hostility, to tolerance, to a budding friendship).
  • Token Minority: Chester Williams was the only black player for the Springboks in 1995. This is actually Truth in Television. At one point, when the conversation gets a bit heated and political, eyes in the locker room turn to him, only for him to deferentially say that he just plays ball, not politics.
  • The Un-Hug: Jason has a very uncomfortable expression on his face when he gets hugged by a random spectator after the World Cup Final.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Mandela makes a speech to this effect to the employees of the deposed Afrikaner government, stating that they can (and should) leave if they genuinely don't feel they can work under him, but that he isn't firing anyone and thinks they could accomplish more working together.
  • 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: In real life, the All Blacks were largely suffering from food poisoning. Conspiracy theories abound about a fictional "Suzy the Waitress".
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: As per real-life, Mandela is seen as a liberator by most, and was in jail for acting against the government. The first scene shows a white rugby coach observing Mandela's release, calling him a terrorist, and predicting this will be the day the country goes to the dogs. Most of the movie focuses on what happens when a freedom fighter actually takes charge, and works to make the transition into a functioning government, with a lot of lingering racial disharmony.