I went to see Invictus the movie last night. It was a pretty amazing film. I was reminded how much I appreciate Clint Eastwood as a director. The first film he directed that I fell in love with was Pale Rider (1985). But I think he reached a new level with Mystic River (2003) and then Million Dollar Baby (2004).
For an actor/director who made a name for himself as a kick-ass and take names later action-type hero, Eastwood has been surprising of late. He seems to be probing the issue of violence and the powerful nature of non-violent resistance. It started in unlikely fashion, with the theme of euthenasia in Million Dollar Baby (2004). Is it ever right to kill somebody, especially if we are ending their tormented and terrible suffering? He continued with his two-part WWII foray Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers (2006). It was a safe way to tell both sides of the story of war without offending American sentimentality about WWII. But he did not fully call into question the nature of violence in that work.
When Gran Torino (2008) came out, I heard at the time it was to be his last acting gig – it would be all producing/directing from there on out. I’m not sure if that is still true. But after I saw the movie I was impacted by it’s strong theme of non-violent resistance to the powers of evil. It blew me away that after a career of killing bad guys, Eastwood might be making his final statement: a renouncement of an entire career of celebrating violence. Invictus is a curious choice as the follow up to Gran Torino. He once again champions the cause of non-violent resistance to evil. This historical piece on the leader of the anti-apartied movement Nelson Madela carries that theme on for another movie.
I’m not a movie critic. But, for me Invictus was an inspiring film which didn’t overdo the sentimentality or the nationalism. However, the central theme of the movie (we have to pull together – this rugby team can help) runs counter to the central theme of the poem from which it draws it’s title and some of its content. “Invictus” is the best known poem by William Ernst Henly (1849-1903).
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.
The poem was apparently a great comfort to Mandela while he was in prison on Robben Island. Let there be no doubt, this beautiful verse by any measure. Yet I find myself slightly critical of its 19th Century liberal humanistic overtones. Am I the master of my own fate? Am I the captain of my soul? The central theme of the movie moved in the direction of discovering our essential connectedness, the need to forgive and oneness. Maybe we are the masters of our fate, contra-individualism. Maybe he is the captain of our souls – contra-egoism or idolatry. That’s pretty nit-picky, I know, but these are the things I think about. Invictus (the poem) does seem to capture the indefatigable greatness of Nelson Mandela – who endured unspeakable personal hardship at least in part due to his strong personal will. So perhaps the poem fits more on that level. It does seem the sort of poem which would give considerable solace when isolated from everyone and everything you love.
I’m glad to have seen this film and I can hardly think of a person I admire more than Nelson Mandela. Here’s the trailer.