Friday, December 11, 2009

Invictus Conflictus

While its still fresh in my mind, I want to make a few comments on the Clint Eastwood epic about Nelson Mandela and the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
First, I thought the movie captured the moment with remarkable empathy and accuracy.
The memories flooded back. It was the day of my 23rd birthday. Our friends who gathered in the Mack's living room that winter afternoon to watch the final, had very little idea that the game would be a momentous milestone in our nations' redemptive history. I must admit to being a little cynical back then that a game could change a nation. In retrospect, I think it did. The legal ending of apartheid was relationally sealed that day in the stadium, on street corners and in pubs as black and white embraced in joy. Thankyou, Mr. Eastwood for capturing the essence of that day beautifully.
Second, massive respect to Morgan Freeman for capturing Madiba's character magnificently - accent, inflection, gesture, and most of all formidable grace. Not so much for Matt Damon and his Bok rugby team I don't think. I found them all little bit underwhelming. In fact, I thought the interplay between Madiba's bodyguards was far more insightful than that of the rugby team, but that's not really my point.

My point is that I feel a bit conflicted overall about the message of movie.

On the one hand, it left me freshly and deeply grateful for God's mercy in raising up a man of peace, who humbly turned the other cheek to his oppressors, and whose example turned a nation bent on revenge, back toward one another. A man dares to put Jesus words into action and a nation is rescued from a bloody revolution. Inspiring, for sure. Miracle, no doubt.

On the other hand, the 'Invictus' theme felt a little hollow to me. The title was taken from a poem by William Henley, which sustained Mandela during his years on Robben Island, and which he gave to Pienaar the South African captain for similar inspiration in leading his team to victory.
It means 'unconquerable'. The poem ends with these often quoted words. "I am the master of my own destiny, I am the captain of my soul.'

So what does Clint Eastwood want us to believe about Madiba?
Was he a courageous, gracious leader who forgave because he had been forgiven, or a chest-thumping, inconquerable hero who mastered his own destiny?
From my vista, there has always been a meekness about his formidable strength.
He has never come across as unconquerable. On the contrary, there has always been a dignified dependence about him.
Not to mention the fact that he often acknowledged his reliance upon God for his strength.
So, Mr. Eastwood, thank you for re-telling a magnificent story, but I don't think 'Invictus' tells the truth about the secret behind Madiba's remarkable character.
"I am the captain of my soul?"
I think Madiba knew who his Captain was.
As I said, Invictus Conflictus.


  1. Good insights, Alan. How amazing that God reaches in and uses all things -- as you pointed out even a sport -- to turn the hearts of men. I, however, think I like the title. I have not read the poem, but the word "unconquerable" seems to me to be powerful. It says to me that the resulting change in a man's heart, if he will rely on Jesus, is that he can become a living example of the power of love and faith. Evil WILL NOT conquer; hate will not conquer. I think it is a powerful word to describe humility and courage as it has been exemplified by Mandela. I can think of lots of examples from scripture and history. What do you think?

  2. agreed Barbara. It is just that the poem does not do justice to the real power behind Madiba's unconquerable spirit.That's my dissapointment.
    IUt ends up being the 'triumph of the human spirit' instead of ''His power is made perfect in my weakness'

  3. I guess the next "plan of action" is to PRAY for Eastwood's salvation and revelations in truth. He is doing a good job now...with intimacy with the Holy Spirit... !

  4. Absolutely! I think he is a genius and is certainly drawn to movies that have a redemptive plot. The last scene in Gran Turino was like a modern passion play.

  5. Great post Alan, nice insight, keen to see the movie soon.

    I've never been quite convinced that Mandela is a fervent believer in Jesus, although I'm sure he has some sort of belief in Jesus. I've always felt he was a bit of a pluralist, though -- am I wrong?