Monday, March 22, 2010

Invictus film review

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone, which is the New Zealand Methodist magazine. Here is my review for March, on the movie Invictus. (Many more reviews, back to 2005, are here.)

A Kiwi and a Springbok rugby fan sat discussing the movie “Invictus.” The movie’s background concerns the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the foreground covers the political changes sweeping South Africa as apartheid collapses and Nelson Mandela assumes Presidential power.

The Kiwi kicked off: The ending was, sadly, predictable. Key plot moments were missing. No watch. No waitress.

The Springbok ran the ball back strongly: The ending was unexpected, but satisfying. None expected us to win. Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, our Springbok captain, was superb, as uncompromising on the screen as in the tackle, while Morgan Freeman, as Nelson Mandela, was inspirational.

The Kiwi counter-attacked from deep: The characters were wooden. Matt Damon was cliche, while Nelson Mandela was predictable. The haka was off, the footage of food poisoned All Blacks carefully deleted.

The Springbok returned in kind: Read the newspaper Kiwi. 15-12 in 1995, while in 2010, “Invictus” gained Academy award recognition, Freeman nominated as Best Actor, Damon as Best Supported Actor and Clint Eastwood as Best Director.

The Kiwi shook his head, this time in surprise: I never realised the 1995 Rugby World Cup was so political. New Zealand was a nation glued to our rugby. All our lives we were sold the mantra, that sport and politics don’t mix.

But for you, it was different. As Brenda (Adjoa Andoh), Mandela’s Chief of Staff, notes: “This rugby. It’s still strictly political.”

The Springbok nodded, also surprised: The security angle got me. Back in 1995, I never considered Nelson’s bodyguard, the formerly tortured, being forced to work alongside the outgoing President de Klerk’s bodyguard, the tormentors. The film made politics personal.

Both fans fell silent, reflecting on the stand out scenes. Like Damon looking out the bars of Mandela’s cell at Robben Island, struggling to grasp the impact of 27 years of back breaking hard labour:

“Thirty years in prison, cell and you come out and forgive the men who put you there.”

And Mandela’s understanding of leadership:

“The rainbow nation starts here. Reconciliation starts here. Forgiveness starts here. It liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it’s such a powerful weapon.”

And that, the Kiwi and the Springbok both agreed, was the power of “Invictus.” It remains a reminder that there’s more to life than rugby. It offers a vision of the world in which forgiveness is centrally transformative, not just from the pulpit, but in leadership and through life. Inspired the Kiwi and the Springbok raised their glasses, shook hands and left.

“Invictus” is based on the book, Playing the Enemy, by John Carlin. The movie title comes from a William Henley poem which sustained Mandela through his imprisonment on Robben Island and which (in the film, although not in real life) Mandela, as World Cup inspiration, gave to Francois Pienaar. It includes the following lines,

“I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

as a reminder of the strength within each of us, and our unique potential to live a life of transformative change.

505 words

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Director of Missiology at Uniting College of Theology and Leadership, Adelaide, Australia. He is the author of The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan, 2005) and writes regularly at More reviews, dating back to 2005, can be found here.

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