Friday, December 11, 2009

Mandela and Rugby Unite a Nation in "Invictus"

"Invictus" is ostensibly about Nelson Madela, the anti-apartheid crusader who spent much of his life in prison before becoming president of South Africa.
But "Invictus" is as much about a pivotal rugby match as it is about Mandela the martyr and statesman. Director Clint Eastwood has used the rugby world champion match as a device to tighten dramatic tension.
Mandela is played by Morgan Freeman with his customary authority, wit and compassion.
Francois Pienaar, the Afrikaaner rugby captain, is played by Matt Damon, complete with credible South African accent and convincing rugby moves.
It helps that Americans don't know that much about rugby, which is wildly popular in England and former British colonies, but scarcely known in the USA.
The big difference between rugby and American professional football is the rugby players do not wear the helmets or protective gear of American football. Rugby players mix it up with reckless abandon in a tougher, more violent but more intimate kind of combat.
And so a rugby match is an apt metaphor in the opposing sides of Caucasian colonial forces and black native South Africans. Mandela took brilliant advantage of a sport loved equally by white and black South Africans as a device to unite a nation.
Of course it is a huge simplification of what Nelson Mandela accomplished, but this is an American rah-rah action movie after all. The fact that is pays tribute to a brilliant, courageous and above all indomitable statesman is a bonus.
I know William Ernest Henley's "Invicus" by heart. I was puzzled by its choice for the title of a movie about overcoming colonialism, but after seeing this movie I understand. If ever there was an "unconquerable soul," it is Nelson Mandela.

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