At The Movies 12.18.09
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” and here’s my commentary on a film opening this week at The Majestic Theater in Greenville :
Clint Eastwood has teamed with Morgan Freeman again, and once more, the result is movie magic.
            This time, Eastwood is the Director, and Freeman plays the role that will perhaps define his entire career:  Nelson Mandela.  “Invictus” is, of course, the name of the famous poem, which Mandela used to fortify himself in all those years spent in that tiny little cell in South Africa.  They could imprison his body, but not his mind.  And they could never break his spirit.
            And yet, when he was finally released, then swiftly elected as the first President of the new South Africa , Mandela immediately saw the danger of just reversing the apartheid.  Somehow, the blacks couldn’t just gleefully seize power and proceed to exclude the whites, as they had been excluded.  Mandela said that during his imprisonment, he spent a lot of time studying his captors, trying to understand their culture.  And he knew that if he was going to lead the new South Africa to greatness, he would have to somehow galvanize the whites, and inspire the blacks to forget about revenge.  No small task when an oppressed minority suddenly becomes a triumphant majority.
            Mandela, estranged from his own family (we’re never told why), overworks himself to the point of literal physical exhaustion, but in so doing discovers an otherwise-obscure reality, that might well have been overlooked by his overeager advisors:  the rugby team.  The world championships were scheduled to be played in Johannesburg , and their team, though predominantly white, could represent the new South Africa , even as Mandela’s own bodyguard, at his insistence, was visibly, and pointedly, composed of both blacks and whites.  Over the strenuous objections of his own advisors, Mandela’s own security detail would have a mixed contingent, because he didn’t want to just preach integration, he wanted to live it in his own life.  It was a powerful message, not lost on anybody, least of all, the captain of the rugby team, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon).  He catches the vision, from the venerable President’s personal attention, that within this rugby tournament resided the possibility of giving the whole country something to cheer about:  together.
            Watching this film makes you glad that you were privileged to live in the same generation as a great leader like Nelson Mandela, who, given the opportunity to lord it over those who had done the same to him, chose to rise above that, for the sake of the greater good.  It’s a powerful message, within a very strong film that only appears to be about a rugby tournament.  It’s actually about how different ethnic groups of the same nationality can focus on what they have in common, rather than on their differences:  and isn’t that what every country in the world needs to do?
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” for 93.5 KICK-FM