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.
--William Ernest Henley (1875)
This is the poem Nelson "Mandiba" Mandela read to himself many times
while imprisoned on Robben Island during South Africa's apartheid
regime. So we are told in Clint Eastwood's new film Invictus
starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. When Mandela was freed from 27
years of imprisonment in 1990 and then elected president of South Africa
in 1994, he was faced with the task of uniting black and white South
Africans after hundreds of years of racial oppression. Eastwood's film
focuses on events surrounding Mandela, played by Freeman, assuming
office and the year leading up to the 1995 Rugby World Cup in which
South Africa played New Zealand for the championship. Seeing sport as a
means of reconciliation, a way of unifying the nationalist spirit of
the country, and a gesture of appeasing the alienation of Afrikaners and
other white South Africans, Mandela encourages Francois Pienaar (Damon),
the captain of the national rugby team, the Spring Bokke , to lead the
team out of nascent mediocrity to victory. This is a daunting task
because most black South Africans see the rugby and the team's colors of
green and gold as symbols of the old apartheid regime. Indeed, at the
time, the only black person on the team was Chester Williams. The movie
is based on the book "Playing the Game: Nelson Mandela and the Game
that Made a Nation" by John Carlin.
Eastwood has become a masterful cinematic storyteller and Freeman a
masterful interpreter. The two together are an unstoppable force. The
film does not clobber you over the head about the issues of race that
are always at the fore, but is a subtle examination of how astute
Mandela was in leading his country in such precarious circumstances.
And as with any good film about a sport, you want the good guys to
prevail. However, in this game, so much more was at stake than the
trophy cup and bragging rights that go with it. Rugby is described in
the film as a hooligan's game played by gentlemen. The same could be
said about politics.