When the South African rugby team, the Springboks, played in Albany, NY in September 1981, 1200 people braved the torrential weather to protest the apartheid regime that the green-and-gold represented; almost certainly the bad weather tamped down the number of protesters, as there were nearly as many law enforcement folks as picketers. The singer Pete Seeger was there and so was I.
If some Americans were opposed to the Springboks, the black South Africans loathed them, routinely rooting for the foreign opposition when the Springboks played. So when apartheid ended, and Nelson Mandela was released from prison 20 years ago this month, and subsequently became President of South Africa, there was reason to believe that the minority whites would be purged from their government positions and that the Springboks would be disbanded. But former prisoner 46664, who spent over a quarter century in a small prison cell, had a different strategy, one honed by observing his captors. Vengeance was anticipated; instead, he disarmed his former foes with compassion.
Invictus, directed by Clint Eastwood, for the longest time feels like a “conventional movie”, maybe a little too deliberately paced, complete with the “big game”. It’s not until near the end that you internalize the awe-inspiring wisdom that was Mandela. I must argue with those who suggest that the final match was anti-climatic; it’s not the game itself that matters, it’s the people’s reaction to the game that counts. Oh, and while I learned far more about rugby than I thought possible, I’m still slightly mystified what constitutes an infraction worthy of a penalty kick.
The South African leader was played by Eastwood’s old friend, Morgan Freeman; he’s already played God, so this is a slight step down. Still I understand why he got his Best Actor nod. Matt Damon, as captain of the Springboks, was good, but I’m surprised by his Best Supporting actor nod. Actually, I was more taken by other characters in the piece.
Nowhere is religion specifically mentioned, to my recollection. Yet there is a powerful message of faith that one can draw from this movie, partially summarized in the 1875 poem for which the movie is named.
I saw this movie Saturday afternoon at the Spectrum in Albany in large part because it’s the last week it’s playing; I’m glad I did.