Invictus: Blood, Sweat, and Reconciliation

Cat 243 Dover By Mary Jo

I’m hammering toward the end of Lost Lords #3, plus the copyedit of my YA paranormal historical Dark Mirror (March 2011) must be sent to NYC today, so I was going to do a blog rerun, pulling something I wrote in years gone by.

Then over the weekend I saw the movie Invictus.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the movie is based on real life, and the lead character is Nelson Mandela.  The opening scenes show him being released from his many years inInvictus-movie-poster-matt-damon prison and becoming elected the president of post-apartheid South Africa. 

South Africa has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans (related to Dutch), English. Zulu, Xhosa, and seven other Bantu languages.  Ethnically it’s about 80% black African, 9% European/white, 9 Colored (mixed race) and 2% Asian.  In other words, an enormously complex “rainbow nation.” 

Long Walk to Freedom

Long_Walk_to_Freedom Nelson Mandela, who is one the great men of our time, along with Ghandi and Martin Luther King, faced staggering problems.  Apart from a desperate need for foreign investment and issues of education, jobs, and everything else imaginable, there was a very real chance of civil war. 

A long history of oppression and the terrible years of apartheid left many black South Africans profoundly angry.  White South Africans feared how their nation was changing, and that they might lose everything they owned, perhaps even their lives. 

It was Mandela who called for “truth and reconciliation.”  Truth, because wounded people need to be heard. Reconciliation, because nothing less would allow South Africa to survive as a nation.  And he modeled that behavior himself by emerging from prison after 27 years, and forgiving those who had imprisoned and persecuted him.

South Africa’s white minority was large and powerful, with skills and wealth the country needed desperately.  Nationalizing all white owned business would probably have destroyed the country, just as neighboring Zimbabwe had been destroyed. 

The Flag of a Rainbow Nation

800px-Flag_of_South_Africa_svg

So how to reconcile the volatile factions of South Africa?  Sports loom large in most cultures, since they’re ritualized forms of competition, are entertaining, and they enable people to feel like part of a tribe.  “The Baltimore Orioles may be having a disastrous season, but they’re still our O’s!” 

Mandela, who is smart as well as wise, realized that rooting for a successful national team could help bring people together.  The Springboks are South Africa’s national rugby union team, named for the gazelle that is a national emblem.  However, Springbok rugby was largely a white sport.  Blacks (including Mandela in his prison years), would usually root for anyone playing against the Springboks. 

 

The Rugby World Cup

South Africa was to be the host of the first Rugby Union World Cup in 1995, and as host nation, they were guaranteed a slot even though the team might not have qualified on its own.  International sports had boycotted South Africa during the apartheid years, so having the World Cup competition was a Very Big Deal. 

Mandela-pienaar-95
The movie focuses on Mandela and Francois Pienaar, the captain of the Springboks rugby team.  It follows the arc of the traditional sports movie, as scrappy underdogs struggle to outdo themselves.  But Invictus is so much more.  The movie is woven of threads of growth and hope and fear as people adapt to their new nation.  (Real Mandela and Pienaar above.)

A running thread is Mandela’s bodyguards, where the black guards are horrified to be joined by four white guards, while the whites looked  as if they expected the worst.  Their gradual coming together as a team of men who could work with and respect each other mirrors wider changes. 

I don’t have time to do a well-researched, well integrated blog, so instead I’m just going to toss out some factoids.

1) Invictus is based on John Carlin’s book Playing the Enemy:  Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation.   Clint Eastwood was the director, and the movie was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Movie, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor

DSCN0326 1) One reason this movie captivated me was because in 2005, we visited South Africa.  We traveled with South African friends and learned what a stunningly beautiful country it is.  On the flight over on South African Airways (lovely airline, by the way), I asked a couple of different South African passengers how the country had managed to avoid a disastrous, bloody civil war.  I’ll never forget the answer one of them gave:  “The forgiveness of the oppressed.”  He credited the generosity of spirit of the black South Africans.

INVICTUS_full_600
2) Mandela was played by Morgan Freeman.  Having played God in an earlier movie,  he was a perfect choice.  So perfect that when Nelson Mandela was asked who he wanted to play him if a movie was made of his book Long Walk to Freedom, he said “Morgan Freeman.”  The casting was inevitable, and in fact Freeman was an executive producer who was instrumental in bringing Playing the Enemy to the screen.

Rugby!
800px-Rugby_scrum_1904
3) Rugby was born in 19th century England, and it's a VERY rough sport—think American football played without any of the protective gear.  Rugby players are known for being big, muscular guys with no necks. <g> 

4) The rugby captain was played by Matt Damon, who is nothing like as large as the Invictus-matt-damon-francois real Francois Pienaar, who is something like 6’ 4” and 240 pounds.  When the two men met and Damon looked up about 6” to Pienaar, he quipped that he looked bigger on screen.  They became immediate friends.  <g>

Damon is a good actor, and he got himself extremely buffed up for the role.  He also nailed the South African accent, from what my untrained ear could tell.

5) I live in a part of the US where there is a lot of British history and tradition, including some rugby.  The Mayhem Consultant was going by a local rugby playing field when a game was in progress.  Almost as soon as he parked, an ambulance came to carry away a player with a nasty compound leg fracture.  Did I mention that Rugby is rough?  <G> 

800px-Allblackhaka

5) The Springboks' opponents in the big game were New Zealand's All Blacks, generally rated as the best team in rugby.  (The name refers to their uniforms—they’re racially integrated.)  The All-Blacks famously do a pre-game Maori haka war chant to raise the testosterone level and intimidate the opposition.  As I found when we went to a cultural show in Rotorua, New Zealand, sticking the tongue out as part of the aggressive posturing is basically saying, “You look delicious! I want to eat you!”  <G>

7) Here is a fun interview with Damon and Freeman. 

For me, what makes Invictus so powerful are the themes of forgiveness and reconciliation, since these themes come up in my books over and over.  It takes tremendous strength and maturity to seek reconciliation rather than vengeance.  Person_nelson_mandela_in_prison1 (Abraham Lincoln wanted it after the Civil War.)  The movie's title came from the famous poem "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley.  It inspired Nelson Mandela in his years of captivity, (picture of him at Robben Island prison above) and famously ends:

I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.

Inspiring words indeed.  Is reconciliation a theme you enjoy reading about?  What are some of your favorite reconciliation stories, whether book or movie or real life?  What other themes appeal to you strongly?

DSCN0119 Mary Jo, posting another picture she took in Cape Town

65 thoughts on “Invictus: Blood, Sweat, and Reconciliation”

  1. I loved Invictus, Mary Jo, though I didn’t expect to, since I don’t usually go for sports OR inspirational movies. But this one was so elegantly directed, so restrained, so beautifully acted.
    History affords us so few stories of large-scale real-life political forgiveness and reconciliation that I was happy and grateful for this one.

    Reply
  2. I loved Invictus, Mary Jo, though I didn’t expect to, since I don’t usually go for sports OR inspirational movies. But this one was so elegantly directed, so restrained, so beautifully acted.
    History affords us so few stories of large-scale real-life political forgiveness and reconciliation that I was happy and grateful for this one.

    Reply
  3. I loved Invictus, Mary Jo, though I didn’t expect to, since I don’t usually go for sports OR inspirational movies. But this one was so elegantly directed, so restrained, so beautifully acted.
    History affords us so few stories of large-scale real-life political forgiveness and reconciliation that I was happy and grateful for this one.

    Reply
  4. I loved Invictus, Mary Jo, though I didn’t expect to, since I don’t usually go for sports OR inspirational movies. But this one was so elegantly directed, so restrained, so beautifully acted.
    History affords us so few stories of large-scale real-life political forgiveness and reconciliation that I was happy and grateful for this one.

    Reply
  5. I loved Invictus, Mary Jo, though I didn’t expect to, since I don’t usually go for sports OR inspirational movies. But this one was so elegantly directed, so restrained, so beautifully acted.
    History affords us so few stories of large-scale real-life political forgiveness and reconciliation that I was happy and grateful for this one.

    Reply
  6. A really wonderful inspiring post, Mary Jo. I’m blowing a vuvuzela!
    Forgiveness and reconciliation are core elements of our own stories, so no wonder they resonate with us so strongly. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it’s on my TBW list.
    Thank you for starting the week on such a bright note.

    Reply
  7. A really wonderful inspiring post, Mary Jo. I’m blowing a vuvuzela!
    Forgiveness and reconciliation are core elements of our own stories, so no wonder they resonate with us so strongly. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it’s on my TBW list.
    Thank you for starting the week on such a bright note.

    Reply
  8. A really wonderful inspiring post, Mary Jo. I’m blowing a vuvuzela!
    Forgiveness and reconciliation are core elements of our own stories, so no wonder they resonate with us so strongly. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it’s on my TBW list.
    Thank you for starting the week on such a bright note.

    Reply
  9. A really wonderful inspiring post, Mary Jo. I’m blowing a vuvuzela!
    Forgiveness and reconciliation are core elements of our own stories, so no wonder they resonate with us so strongly. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it’s on my TBW list.
    Thank you for starting the week on such a bright note.

    Reply
  10. A really wonderful inspiring post, Mary Jo. I’m blowing a vuvuzela!
    Forgiveness and reconciliation are core elements of our own stories, so no wonder they resonate with us so strongly. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it’s on my TBW list.
    Thank you for starting the week on such a bright note.

    Reply
  11. It was so lovely to see a film that celebrated strength, honor, and forgiveness and to know that it was based on Real Life just made it better. To see the characters dawning realization that their former enemies were fully realized humans was lovely. And the rugby game, complete with the opening haka, was fun and suspenseful, despite knowing who won.
    This year there were so many excellent nominations for Best Actor, and for the first time ever I’d seen them all. As you note, Morgan Freeman was born to play this role, and I was rooting for him or Colin Firth. Neither won the Oscar, but they were wonderful nonetheless.

    Reply
  12. It was so lovely to see a film that celebrated strength, honor, and forgiveness and to know that it was based on Real Life just made it better. To see the characters dawning realization that their former enemies were fully realized humans was lovely. And the rugby game, complete with the opening haka, was fun and suspenseful, despite knowing who won.
    This year there were so many excellent nominations for Best Actor, and for the first time ever I’d seen them all. As you note, Morgan Freeman was born to play this role, and I was rooting for him or Colin Firth. Neither won the Oscar, but they were wonderful nonetheless.

    Reply
  13. It was so lovely to see a film that celebrated strength, honor, and forgiveness and to know that it was based on Real Life just made it better. To see the characters dawning realization that their former enemies were fully realized humans was lovely. And the rugby game, complete with the opening haka, was fun and suspenseful, despite knowing who won.
    This year there were so many excellent nominations for Best Actor, and for the first time ever I’d seen them all. As you note, Morgan Freeman was born to play this role, and I was rooting for him or Colin Firth. Neither won the Oscar, but they were wonderful nonetheless.

    Reply
  14. It was so lovely to see a film that celebrated strength, honor, and forgiveness and to know that it was based on Real Life just made it better. To see the characters dawning realization that their former enemies were fully realized humans was lovely. And the rugby game, complete with the opening haka, was fun and suspenseful, despite knowing who won.
    This year there were so many excellent nominations for Best Actor, and for the first time ever I’d seen them all. As you note, Morgan Freeman was born to play this role, and I was rooting for him or Colin Firth. Neither won the Oscar, but they were wonderful nonetheless.

    Reply
  15. It was so lovely to see a film that celebrated strength, honor, and forgiveness and to know that it was based on Real Life just made it better. To see the characters dawning realization that their former enemies were fully realized humans was lovely. And the rugby game, complete with the opening haka, was fun and suspenseful, despite knowing who won.
    This year there were so many excellent nominations for Best Actor, and for the first time ever I’d seen them all. As you note, Morgan Freeman was born to play this role, and I was rooting for him or Colin Firth. Neither won the Oscar, but they were wonderful nonetheless.

    Reply
  16. From MJP:
    Pam, like you I really liked the restraint and intelligence of the movie. Apparently Morgan Freeman had spent years trying to figure out a way to film LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, but Mandela’s book didn’t have a structure that would work. Carlin’s book, built around the an amazing sports victory, provided the perfect structure.
    South Africa still has a lot of problems–Mandela’s shoes have been just about impossible to fill–but at least it’s still a viable, working nation.

    Reply
  17. From MJP:
    Pam, like you I really liked the restraint and intelligence of the movie. Apparently Morgan Freeman had spent years trying to figure out a way to film LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, but Mandela’s book didn’t have a structure that would work. Carlin’s book, built around the an amazing sports victory, provided the perfect structure.
    South Africa still has a lot of problems–Mandela’s shoes have been just about impossible to fill–but at least it’s still a viable, working nation.

    Reply
  18. From MJP:
    Pam, like you I really liked the restraint and intelligence of the movie. Apparently Morgan Freeman had spent years trying to figure out a way to film LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, but Mandela’s book didn’t have a structure that would work. Carlin’s book, built around the an amazing sports victory, provided the perfect structure.
    South Africa still has a lot of problems–Mandela’s shoes have been just about impossible to fill–but at least it’s still a viable, working nation.

    Reply
  19. From MJP:
    Pam, like you I really liked the restraint and intelligence of the movie. Apparently Morgan Freeman had spent years trying to figure out a way to film LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, but Mandela’s book didn’t have a structure that would work. Carlin’s book, built around the an amazing sports victory, provided the perfect structure.
    South Africa still has a lot of problems–Mandela’s shoes have been just about impossible to fill–but at least it’s still a viable, working nation.

    Reply
  20. From MJP:
    Pam, like you I really liked the restraint and intelligence of the movie. Apparently Morgan Freeman had spent years trying to figure out a way to film LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, but Mandela’s book didn’t have a structure that would work. Carlin’s book, built around the an amazing sports victory, provided the perfect structure.
    South Africa still has a lot of problems–Mandela’s shoes have been just about impossible to fill–but at least it’s still a viable, working nation.

    Reply
  21. Cara/Andrea, since you’re our resident Wench Jock, I’m sure you’ll like the movie for storyline as well as the uplift. *G* Like most Americans, I don’t know much about rugby, but it’s enough like American football that I could generally follow it. And the players are eye candy. *g*
    But as you stay, the themes of the story are what matter, and they resonate beautifully with the romances we write.

    Reply
  22. Cara/Andrea, since you’re our resident Wench Jock, I’m sure you’ll like the movie for storyline as well as the uplift. *G* Like most Americans, I don’t know much about rugby, but it’s enough like American football that I could generally follow it. And the players are eye candy. *g*
    But as you stay, the themes of the story are what matter, and they resonate beautifully with the romances we write.

    Reply
  23. Cara/Andrea, since you’re our resident Wench Jock, I’m sure you’ll like the movie for storyline as well as the uplift. *G* Like most Americans, I don’t know much about rugby, but it’s enough like American football that I could generally follow it. And the players are eye candy. *g*
    But as you stay, the themes of the story are what matter, and they resonate beautifully with the romances we write.

    Reply
  24. Cara/Andrea, since you’re our resident Wench Jock, I’m sure you’ll like the movie for storyline as well as the uplift. *G* Like most Americans, I don’t know much about rugby, but it’s enough like American football that I could generally follow it. And the players are eye candy. *g*
    But as you stay, the themes of the story are what matter, and they resonate beautifully with the romances we write.

    Reply
  25. Cara/Andrea, since you’re our resident Wench Jock, I’m sure you’ll like the movie for storyline as well as the uplift. *G* Like most Americans, I don’t know much about rugby, but it’s enough like American football that I could generally follow it. And the players are eye candy. *g*
    But as you stay, the themes of the story are what matter, and they resonate beautifully with the romances we write.

    Reply
  26. Susan/Dc, I loved the way the movie showed gradual bonds being built as personified in the body guards. The white guards looked as if they expected to be attacked, and you could just see the black head of security thinking how Indira Ghandhi was murdered by her bodyguards, and it could happen again. By the end–they were working and celebrating together.
    I liked the thread about the Pienaar family maid, too. Shared jubiliation unites.

    Reply
  27. Susan/Dc, I loved the way the movie showed gradual bonds being built as personified in the body guards. The white guards looked as if they expected to be attacked, and you could just see the black head of security thinking how Indira Ghandhi was murdered by her bodyguards, and it could happen again. By the end–they were working and celebrating together.
    I liked the thread about the Pienaar family maid, too. Shared jubiliation unites.

    Reply
  28. Susan/Dc, I loved the way the movie showed gradual bonds being built as personified in the body guards. The white guards looked as if they expected to be attacked, and you could just see the black head of security thinking how Indira Ghandhi was murdered by her bodyguards, and it could happen again. By the end–they were working and celebrating together.
    I liked the thread about the Pienaar family maid, too. Shared jubiliation unites.

    Reply
  29. Susan/Dc, I loved the way the movie showed gradual bonds being built as personified in the body guards. The white guards looked as if they expected to be attacked, and you could just see the black head of security thinking how Indira Ghandhi was murdered by her bodyguards, and it could happen again. By the end–they were working and celebrating together.
    I liked the thread about the Pienaar family maid, too. Shared jubiliation unites.

    Reply
  30. Susan/Dc, I loved the way the movie showed gradual bonds being built as personified in the body guards. The white guards looked as if they expected to be attacked, and you could just see the black head of security thinking how Indira Ghandhi was murdered by her bodyguards, and it could happen again. By the end–they were working and celebrating together.
    I liked the thread about the Pienaar family maid, too. Shared jubiliation unites.

    Reply
  31. Rugby is popular here in the VA countryside. I see several bumper stickers, “Give Blood, Play Rugby.”
    Mandela was also responsible for bringing the World Cup (soccer/football) to South Africa. Rugby is an offshoot of football. They met in Rugby England to hammer out the rules and could not decide whether hands could be used or not, so ended up with two sports.
    I cried on the opening day of the World Cup when they announced that Mandela’s granddaughter had been killed in a car accident. What horrible range of emotions he must have been going through.

    Reply
  32. Rugby is popular here in the VA countryside. I see several bumper stickers, “Give Blood, Play Rugby.”
    Mandela was also responsible for bringing the World Cup (soccer/football) to South Africa. Rugby is an offshoot of football. They met in Rugby England to hammer out the rules and could not decide whether hands could be used or not, so ended up with two sports.
    I cried on the opening day of the World Cup when they announced that Mandela’s granddaughter had been killed in a car accident. What horrible range of emotions he must have been going through.

    Reply
  33. Rugby is popular here in the VA countryside. I see several bumper stickers, “Give Blood, Play Rugby.”
    Mandela was also responsible for bringing the World Cup (soccer/football) to South Africa. Rugby is an offshoot of football. They met in Rugby England to hammer out the rules and could not decide whether hands could be used or not, so ended up with two sports.
    I cried on the opening day of the World Cup when they announced that Mandela’s granddaughter had been killed in a car accident. What horrible range of emotions he must have been going through.

    Reply
  34. Rugby is popular here in the VA countryside. I see several bumper stickers, “Give Blood, Play Rugby.”
    Mandela was also responsible for bringing the World Cup (soccer/football) to South Africa. Rugby is an offshoot of football. They met in Rugby England to hammer out the rules and could not decide whether hands could be used or not, so ended up with two sports.
    I cried on the opening day of the World Cup when they announced that Mandela’s granddaughter had been killed in a car accident. What horrible range of emotions he must have been going through.

    Reply
  35. Rugby is popular here in the VA countryside. I see several bumper stickers, “Give Blood, Play Rugby.”
    Mandela was also responsible for bringing the World Cup (soccer/football) to South Africa. Rugby is an offshoot of football. They met in Rugby England to hammer out the rules and could not decide whether hands could be used or not, so ended up with two sports.
    I cried on the opening day of the World Cup when they announced that Mandela’s granddaughter had been killed in a car accident. What horrible range of emotions he must have been going through.

    Reply
  36. From MJP:
    **”Give Blood, Play Rugby.”**
    LOL, Lyn! Rugby players obviously take pride in their toughness. I didn’t know that Mandela brought the World Cup to South Africa (though I might have missed that in the movie.) But it makes sense, given how he is honored everywhere.
    I hadn’t heard that his daughter was killed in an a car accident. How very sad for him and the rest of his family.

    Reply
  37. From MJP:
    **”Give Blood, Play Rugby.”**
    LOL, Lyn! Rugby players obviously take pride in their toughness. I didn’t know that Mandela brought the World Cup to South Africa (though I might have missed that in the movie.) But it makes sense, given how he is honored everywhere.
    I hadn’t heard that his daughter was killed in an a car accident. How very sad for him and the rest of his family.

    Reply
  38. From MJP:
    **”Give Blood, Play Rugby.”**
    LOL, Lyn! Rugby players obviously take pride in their toughness. I didn’t know that Mandela brought the World Cup to South Africa (though I might have missed that in the movie.) But it makes sense, given how he is honored everywhere.
    I hadn’t heard that his daughter was killed in an a car accident. How very sad for him and the rest of his family.

    Reply
  39. From MJP:
    **”Give Blood, Play Rugby.”**
    LOL, Lyn! Rugby players obviously take pride in their toughness. I didn’t know that Mandela brought the World Cup to South Africa (though I might have missed that in the movie.) But it makes sense, given how he is honored everywhere.
    I hadn’t heard that his daughter was killed in an a car accident. How very sad for him and the rest of his family.

    Reply
  40. From MJP:
    **”Give Blood, Play Rugby.”**
    LOL, Lyn! Rugby players obviously take pride in their toughness. I didn’t know that Mandela brought the World Cup to South Africa (though I might have missed that in the movie.) But it makes sense, given how he is honored everywhere.
    I hadn’t heard that his daughter was killed in an a car accident. How very sad for him and the rest of his family.

    Reply
  41. Margaret, the movie is definitely worth on a better screen!
    From what I gather, they told the basic real story well. Even for a non-sports fan, it was worth watching because it’s so much more.

    Reply
  42. Margaret, the movie is definitely worth on a better screen!
    From what I gather, they told the basic real story well. Even for a non-sports fan, it was worth watching because it’s so much more.

    Reply
  43. Margaret, the movie is definitely worth on a better screen!
    From what I gather, they told the basic real story well. Even for a non-sports fan, it was worth watching because it’s so much more.

    Reply
  44. Margaret, the movie is definitely worth on a better screen!
    From what I gather, they told the basic real story well. Even for a non-sports fan, it was worth watching because it’s so much more.

    Reply
  45. Margaret, the movie is definitely worth on a better screen!
    From what I gather, they told the basic real story well. Even for a non-sports fan, it was worth watching because it’s so much more.

    Reply
  46. I meant the FIFA World Cup that is taking place now. So it wounldn’t have been in the movie. Sorry to be confusing, but since we seem to be an international lot, I used both soccer and football. I have absolutely no idea why Americans call it soccer, just figured we had to be different.

    Reply
  47. I meant the FIFA World Cup that is taking place now. So it wounldn’t have been in the movie. Sorry to be confusing, but since we seem to be an international lot, I used both soccer and football. I have absolutely no idea why Americans call it soccer, just figured we had to be different.

    Reply
  48. I meant the FIFA World Cup that is taking place now. So it wounldn’t have been in the movie. Sorry to be confusing, but since we seem to be an international lot, I used both soccer and football. I have absolutely no idea why Americans call it soccer, just figured we had to be different.

    Reply
  49. I meant the FIFA World Cup that is taking place now. So it wounldn’t have been in the movie. Sorry to be confusing, but since we seem to be an international lot, I used both soccer and football. I have absolutely no idea why Americans call it soccer, just figured we had to be different.

    Reply
  50. I meant the FIFA World Cup that is taking place now. So it wounldn’t have been in the movie. Sorry to be confusing, but since we seem to be an international lot, I used both soccer and football. I have absolutely no idea why Americans call it soccer, just figured we had to be different.

    Reply

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