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October 24, 2015

InvStirring, moving.

After 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela is elected President and guides South Africa’s emergence from apartheid on a journey towards forgiveness, painful healing and restoration.

Though the film actually follows two intersecting plot lines (the social politics of a reformed South Africa and a rugby tournament), it’s really one story. It’s a story of overcoming odds, working together and creating a new future.

Forced to work together, Mandela’s security detail—consisting of both white and black officers—must overcome their own prejudices in everyday life. It’s here, when Mandela is confronted by his own head of security reluctant to work with the same people who he has suffered under for decades, that we learn the true theme of the film. “Forgiveness liberates the soul,” Mandela tells him. “It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.”

As captain of the struggling Springbok team, Pienaar is summoned to meet with Mandela, who talks to him about leadership and why winning the World Cup is about so much more than just rugby. Inspired by his sense of national purpose, Pienaar rallies the team to train harder, and even go into South Africa’s slums to connect with new fans by putting on free rugby clinics. “This country’s changed. We need to change as well,” he tells his teammates.

Before production began, Morgan Freeman and Lori McCreary made a trip to South Africa to get Nelson Mandela’s blessing for the film. According to McCreary, Freeman started off by saying, “Madiba, we’ve been working a long time on this other project, but we’ve just read something that we think might get to the core of who you are…” Before he had finished, Madiba said, “Ah, the World Cup.” For McCreary, that was “when I knew we were heading in the right direction.”

Morgan Freeman, who has been a friend of Nelson Mandela for many years, prepared for his role as Mandela by watching some tapes of him to perfect his accent and rhythm of speaking. However, the most difficult part was Mandela’s charisma, which could not be duplicated: “I wanted to avoid acting like him; I needed to BE him, and that was the biggest challenge. When you meet Mandela, you know you are in the presence of greatness, but it is something that just emanates from him. He moves people for the better; that is his calling in life. Some call it the Madiba magic. I’m not sure that magic can be explained.”

Forgiveness and reconciliation are crucial themes. Rather than seeking revenge against white oppressors, Nelson tells blacks, “Take your guns, your knives and your [machetes] and throw them into the sea.” He personally sacrifices for his country, working exhausting hours and risking his life to be among the common people. Since he deems his presidential salary far too high (“terrible,” he says), he gives part of it to charity.

A Bible verse is written on a church wall, and a charity worker and her assistant say, “God bless you” as they give needy children clothing. South Africa’s national anthem includes the line, “God bless Africa”—and Pienaar tells white teammates who are reluctant to sing the black song that they need to admit they need God’s blessing. He asks a teammate to pray after a victory.

A security officer comments that a crazed fan might “hear God speaking through the radio,” telling him to kill Mandela.

“Invictus” contains the lines, “I thank whatever gods may be/For my unconquerable soul/ … I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul.”

“In order to build our nation, we must all exceed our own expectations,” Mandela tells Francois, who interprets the statement as reflective of Mandela’s hope that the Springboks will win the World Cup.

“This is it! This is our destiny!”

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.

This is the final stanza of “Invictus,” written by Victorian poet William Ernest Henley after having his tubercular foot amputated. The word invictus is Latin for “unconquered,” and in this poem Henley defies the difficult circumstances of his life to conquer him.

Nelson Mandela: [reciting] Out of the night that covers me, black as the pit from pole to pole / I thanks 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 fate, 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 punishment the scroll / I am the master of my fate – I am the captain of my soul.

Brenda Mazibuko: You’re risking your political capital, you’re risking your future as our leader.

Nelson Mandela: The day I am afraid to do that is the day I am no longer fit to lead.

Francois Pienaar: Times change, we need to change as well.

Etienne Feyder: When does he take a break?

Staff Member: He says he rested enough in prison.

Nerine: Thinking about tomorrow?

Francois Pienaar: No. Tomorrow’s taken care of, one way or another. I was thinking about how you spend 30 years in a tiny cell, and come out ready to forgive the people who put you there.

[appearing at the South African Sports Committee, after they had elected to disband the Springbok rugby team] Nelson Mandela: Brothers, sisters, comrades: I am here because I believe you have made a decision with insufficient information and foresight. I am aware of your earlier vote. I am aware that it was unanimous. Nonetheless, I believe we should restore the Springboks; restore their name, their emblem and their colors, immediately. Let me tell you why. On Robben Island, in Pollsmoor Prison, all of my jailers were Afrikaners. For 27 years, I studied them. I learned their language, read their books, their poetry. I had to know my enemy before I could prevail against him. And we DID prevail, did we not? All of us here… we prevailed. Our enemy is no longer the Afrikaner. They are our fellow South Africans, our partners in democracy. And they treasure Springbok rugby. If we take that away, we lose them. We prove that we are what they feared we would be. We have to be better than that. We have to surprise them with compassion, with restraint and generosity; I know, all of the things they denied us. But this is no time to celebrate petty revenge. This is the time to build our nation using every single brick available to us, even if that brick comes wrapped in green and gold. You elected me your leader. Let me lead you now.

Nelson Mandela: How do you inspire your team to do their best?

Francois Pienaar: By example. I’ve always thought to lead by example, sir.

Nelson Mandela: Well, that is right. That is exactly right. But how do we get them to be better then they think they CAN be? That is very difficult, I find. Inspiration, perhaps. How do we inspire ourselves to greatness when nothing less will do? How do we inspire everyone around us? I sometimes think it is by using the work of others.

Nelson Mandela: My family is very large. 42 million.

Nelson Mandela: You criticize without understanding. You seek only to address your own personal feelings. That is selfish thinking, Zindzi. It does not serve the nation.

[observing an Afrikaans newspaper headline] Jason Tshabalala: I wonder what it says…

Nelson Mandela: [reads the headline] “He may win an election, but can he run a country?”

Jason Tshabalala: Not even your first day on the job, and they’re already after you.

Nelson Mandela: It’s a fair question…

Nelson Mandela: The Rainbow Nation starts here. Reconciliation starts here.

Francois Pienaar: I may break my arm, my leg, my neck, but I will not let that freaking guy go.

Nerine: [after Francois returns from his tea with President Mandela] So, what’s he like?

Francois Pienaar: [pauses] He’s unlike any person I’ve ever met.

Jason Tshabalala: There are four Special Branch cops in my office.

Nelson Mandela: Why, what did you do?

Nelson Mandela: [as match is about to begin] Perhaps we should make a little wager?

New Zealand PM: All your gold for all our sheep?

Nelson Mandela: Well, I was thinking more along the lines of a case of wine.

[first lines] High School Boy: [seeing passing motorcade] Who is it, sir?

High School Coach: It’s the terrorist Mandela, they let him out. Remember this day boys, this is the day our country went to the dogs.

Television Announcer: Tell us Mr. President, have you always been a rugby fan?

Nelson Mandela: People don’t realize that I played rugby myself when I was a student at Fort Hare. It is a very rough game, almost as rough as politics.

Francois Pienaar: I’ve been invited to tea.

Nerine: With who?

Francois Pienaar: The President.

Mr. Pienaar: Who, President of the SA Rugby? Count your fingers…

Francois Pienaar: [pointing at the TV] No, the President.

Nelson Mandela: [Pienaar just lead his team to an unexpected victory in the world cup. Mandela is presenting him with the trophy] Thank you for what you have done for your country.

Francois Pienaar: No, Mr. President. Thank *you*.

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From → Film

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