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Movie Review: Invictus

18 December 2009

I liked it. 

Except for one thing. 

The movie’s title is the title of a famous 19th century poem by William Ernest Henley, who had his leg amputated due to a bout with tuberculosis of the bone.  It is about integrity in the midst of personal suffering:

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.

According to the movie Invictus, then-President Mandela gave the captain of the South African rugby team (Francois Pienaar) a handwritten copy of the text of Invictus (the poem), and that this in turn inspired Pienaar to lead the Springboks on to a World Cup victory in 1995.  Apparently, the poem was a source of inspiration to Nelson Mandela during his 27 year incarceration in South Africa’s prison system. 

There are some sites that are claiming that Mandela didn’t give Francois Pienaar the text of Invictus, but rather the often quoted portion of text from Teddy Roosevelt’s speech, “The Man in the Arena.” 

I think the latter claim is more probable.  Think about it – if you were an Afrikaner rugby player during that time in South Africa’s history, would you be inspired by a poem about Job-like suffering?  Now, I agree that the poem Invictus would inspire a political prisoner, but do not agree that it would inspire Pienaar.  Nope, I agree with the minority view asserting Roosevelt’s poem as the source of inspiration for Francois Pienaar in his role as team captain. 

Good movie, otherwise. 

Mandela later wrote of Francois Pienaar, “It was under Francois Pienaar’s inspiring leadership that rugby became the pride of the entire county. Francois brought the nation together.” 

And, what Pienaar said about the team’s 42 million supporters after the game, is true too. 

…I know because I double-checked. 

(Eastwood, I got my eye on you, man).

– Elder  😉

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