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Monday, December 7, 2009

Invictus: The Movie and what it means to South Africans

Clint Eastwood's latest movie, Invictus, about South Africa's World Cup rugby win in 1995 opens nationwide in the USA this Friday, December 11th. I have not seen a screening but I am already prepared to say that you must see it, especially if you have any plans to visit South Africa. It is about so much more than rugby-this was the tournament that changed our nation. Francois Pienaar, who is played by Matt Damon in the movie and who was the captain of the South African team said "Hollywood could not write a better story." So they just had to tell this one.

Every South African old enough to remember knows where they were on June 24th, 1995. I happened to be in Austin, Texas in body, but we were all in Ellis Park stadium in spirit, watching and feeling our nation defy the odds and come together miraculously as "One Team, One Country". In short, rugby was a sport that symbolized the old South Africa. It was played predominantly by whites, especially Afrikaners, who were extremely proud of their sport and after years of international isolation were desperate to prove themselves to the world.

Understandably, many black South African's wanted nothing to do with it. In fact many were hostile to the game, the players ("The Boks"), the emblem (the Springbok), and even to the green and gold uniform itself. Nelson Mandela, played by Morgan Freeman in the movie, was the visionary who realized that rugby could unite the nation. He and the captain Francois Pienaar then lead the team and the country to victory and to a united new South Africa. On that day Mandela, affectionately known as Madiba, was wearing that number six green and gold jersey of the captain, Francois Pienaar.

Now a new generation of South Africans can be reminded of the spirit their nation was built in. Despite not yet seeing the movie I am prepared to stick my neck out and say this should be required viewing for all South Africans. I got goose bumps reading excerpts from 'Playing the Enemy' last night. No, I am shrouding my emotions here like a good South African male - I have goosebumps right now, but last night my eyes were welling-up. Tough, grown men of all ages, colors and creeds were crying tears of joy, relief and hope in Ellis Park stadium on June 24th, 1995. That is still with us 14 years later and we will feel it again this Friday.

Watch the Invictus trailer here:

A few interesting tidbits about the movie and background:
  • The screenwriter is Anthony Peckham who grew up in Durban, South Africa.
  • Morgan Freeman who had wanted to do film about Mandela for a decade, found the right project when he heard about a book being written: 'Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation' by John Carlin an ex South African.
  • The name Invictus (Latin-invincible) is from a poem by William Ernest Henley that inspired Nelson Mandela during his years in prison. Read it below.
  • Matt Damon trained intensely to get in shape for the role but couldn't grow into a 6ft 3inches and 235 pound Pienaar. He first met Francois Pienaar for dinner at Francois' house. Amusingly, when Francois answered the door Matt said, "I'm much bigger in movies."
  • Matt Damon knew the basics of the game from friends of his who played at Harvard University.
  • In true Clint Eastwood style he kept the movie as close to the original facts and event as possible.
  • Action sequences include about 30minutes of game action and used mostly real rugby players from South Africa, New Zealand and Togo instead of actors.
  • Movie viewers will learn the basics of the game through scenes at rugby coaching clinics.
  • For most of his life Mandela rose at 4.30 am, made his bed and went for an hours' run. While in prison he simply jogged on the spot in his cell. Peckam says that on the day of the final he skipped his exercise routine and made more time to read the national papers.
  • On June 24th, 1995 the headline of the Argus newspaper read "Viva the Boks!". Viva was a war cry of black protest that was now being used to rally behind the Springbok rugby team. Before the game had even started the country was on a new road.

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.

William Ernest Henley

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow Wow Wow Very AMAZING blog you make. Really I liked your blog very much. You give such a beautiful review for this movie. Your blog creates so much excitement about the Invictus movie. I appreciate your blog and the time you spent on. That's why I m very curious to watch Invictus movie.

December 8, 2009 at 5:35 AM  
Blogger rose said...

Oh boy it will be nice to watch Invictus movie. I am a big fan of rugby sport. You know guys I am one of white man w ho could watch that glorious situation from my own eyes. It was memorable day for me and I can not forget it. I could not believe when I heard that this glorious rugby match is going to build in to cinema. I searched all details from online .

December 10, 2009 at 12:24 AM  

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