What do you get when you combine Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, and Clint Eastwood? A great, inspiring movie that somehow didn't manage to capture much of an audience? No way! But somehow Invictus, though nominated for two Oscars, managed to only earn about $122 million worldwide. Not a great take considering the $60 million budget. Even Gran Torino, Eastwood's film in 2008, made more than twice that worldwide on a smaller budget. That shouldn't stop everybody from enjoying this great movie on DVD however.
In 1990, Nelson Mandela (Freeman) was released from prison after nearly 26 years in captivity on Robben Island as a political prisoner. Apartheid in South Africa legally enforced racial separation of white and black South Africans. Though the whites were in the minority, they ruled from 1948 until President de Klerk began working to end apartheid in 1990. That effort eventually led to apartheid's end and the election of Mandela as President in 1994.
Invictus tells the story of how Mandela used the sport of rugby to forge a new sort of South African national unity. It's an odd place to look for racial harmony, but it makes sense as you learn why throughout the film. Mandela, while a prisoner, learned much about his Afrikaner (white South African) jailers simply through observation. He learned that they really liked their rugby team – the Springboks – even though they weren't very good.
When the South African sporting authority decided to change the name and jersey colors of the Springboks, Mandela stepped in and suggested that they not do such a thing. It might have driven a bigger wedge between whites and blacks at a time when they needed more of a spirit of forgiveness and unity, unlike what the Afrikaners did while in power.
Over the course of the film, in addition to his regular presidential duties, Mandela begins working with the Springboks' coach and captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), to not only make the team better, but to make the South African people cheer for them. Considering that most of the country was more interested in soccer than rugby and the team wasn't very good, it would be an uphill battle on both fronts.
Invictus provides not only a history lesson, but a lesson in how politics should work around the world in my opinion. I know that my knowledge of apartheid in South Africa was minimal at best, though I respected Mandela for his endurance and far-reaching vision for the future of his country. But seeing some of the issues he dealt with after being freed from prison and elected President, I have even more respect for Mandela. Leading by example is something all leaders, big and small, should aspire to.
Through his own determination for a united country, he inspired a rugby team to greatness. And they in turn inspired others to set aside their differences and start to heal the wounds of more than 40 years of segregation and racial violence. Simply amazing.
The title, "Invictus," refers to a poem Mandela used to recite to himself in prison to stay strong in the face of nearly impossible odds – "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." Would that we all had such a strong sense of what is right to guide us through troubled times.
Included with the movie on the DVD is a music video and a feature – "Matt Damon Plays Rugby." Damon went all out for his role as the Springboks' captain Pienaar, working out to gain the physical build and endurance of a rugby player. He obviously earned the respect of the players he worked with on the film as well as the real life individuals the story was based on. Damon went so far as to ride in a bicycle race for charity with the real Pienaar the day before shooting began.
If you're looking for an inspiring and educational story, Invictus should be on your list to check out on DVD and Blu-ray, On Demand, and for download. For more information about the film, check out the official site.