4 Stars — Inspiring

The power of his Christian faith brought Nelson Mandela through 30 years of unjust imprisonment. But his faith didn’t just help him survive; it helped him become a wise and strategic leader who recognized that forgiveness is his most potent weapon against the atrocities of apartheid. In classic Clint Eastwood style, Invictus is a film that not only demonstrates Mandela’s genius but Eastwood’s, as well.

Having spent 30 years in prison studying the Afrikaner culture, Mandela realized that to create a viable nation, he needed black and white citizens working together in unity. To expect them to do so, he had to model this unity. He did this in a variety of ways, from keeping the white government workers in their places of service upon taking control of the government to assigning white officers to his security detail and choosing the national rugby team as a way to unite the national pride and passion of all 43 million South Africans.

It’s this last effort around which the film is primarily based. Realizing that the Afrikaner whites loved their national rugby team, Mandela (Morgan Freeman) kept his new government from disbanding them. Opposing the black citizens who elected him, Mandela explained to his chief of staff, Brenda Mazibuko (Adjoa Andoh), that the future of the nation needed the support of all its citizens, including the Afrikaners. He declared that to take their team away was “a petty vengeance that would harm the nation.”

This awareness that every act of a government has human repercussions is the genius of Mandela’s leadership. Having been raised by a Christian mother, going to mission schools and completing a law degree, Mandela understood both the nature of human beings and the limitations yet responsibilities of law and government. When he attended a rugby match and observed that the white fans cheered for South Africa, but the black fans cheered for the opponent, he decided to unite the nation around the rugby team, which was all white except for one black player.

Inviting the captain of the team to afternoon tea in his presidential office, Mandela inspired Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) to lead his team to win the 1995 World Cup. Realizing that this challenge was far greater than the challenge to win a simple athletic contest, Pienaar led his team in providing training events to children in the poor black neighborhoods as well as persuading the team to learn the new national anthem in the language of the black citizens.

Although this is history, we won’t spoil what happens in this effort except to say that the story is told with an authenticity that allows us to experience the full meaning of this historic healing of a nation.  Leading a nation from years of racial hatred to a place of reconciliation and forgiveness requires a leader who has already traveled that path personally and can show his people the way. This is the man who is truly invictus.


» It’s difficult to be a person of peace, especially in unfair circumstances. If you were unjustly imprisoned by an apartheid government in a small cell for 30 years, what kind of person do you think you would become? Why?

» It’s also difficult to find ways to bring unity to a divided nation. Do you believe that athletic events in your country are bringing the various people groups together?

» The Springboc team of South Africa won the World Cup and the entire nation came together that day. What significant difference in the history of the nation did this make?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.