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Invictus - Mandela & Pienaar & the Rugby World Cup

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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

Invictus is a 2009 biographical sports drama film directed by Clint Eastwood. The story is based on the John Carlin book, ' Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation' about the events in South Africa before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, hosted in that country following the dismantling of apartheid. Freeman and Matt Damon play, respectively, South African President Nelson Mandela and François Pienaar, the captain of the South African rugby team, the Springboks. Invictus was released in the United States on December 11, 2009. The title, 'Invictus' may be translated from the Latin as undefeated or unconquered, and is the title of a poem by English poet William Ernest Henley


After 27 years in jail, Nelson Mandela is released in 1990. His immediate challenge is "balancing black aspirations with white fears", as racial tensions from the apartheid era have not completely disappeared.

While Mandela attempts to tackle the country's largest problems—crime and unemployment, among many others—he attends a game of the Springboks, the country's rugby union team. Mandela recognizes that the blacks in the stadium cheer against their home squad, as the Springboks represent prejudice and apartheid in their minds. Mandela remarks that he did the same while imprisoned on Robben Island. Knowing that South Africa is set to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup in one year's time, Mandela convinces a meeting of the newly-black-dominated South African Sports Committee to support the Springboks. He then meets with the captain of the Springboks rugby team, Matt Damon as François Pienaar Springbok team captain and implies that a Springboks victory in the World Cup will unite and inspire the nation. Mandela also shares with Pienaar a poem, "Invictus", that had inspired him during his time in prison. Pienaar and his teammates train. Many South Africans, both white and black, doubt that rugby will unite a nation torn apart by some 50 years of racial tensions. For many non-whites, especially the radicals, the Springboks symbolised white supremacy. However, both Mandela and Pienaar stand firmly behind their theory that the game can successfully unite the country. Things begin to change, however, as the players interact with the locals. During the opening games, support for the Springboks begins to grow among the non-white population. By the second game, citizens of all races attend to support the Springboks and Mandela's efforts. The Springboks surpass all expectations and qualify for the final match against New Zealand All Blacks—the most successful rugby team in the world then and now. Prior to the game, the Springbok team visits Robben Island, where Mandela spent 17 of his 27 years in jail. Pienaar mentions his amazement that Mandela "could spend thirty years in a tiny cell, and come out ready to forgive the people who put [him] there". Supported by a large home crowd of both whites and blacks, Pienaar motivates his team. The Springboks win the match on a last-minute long drop-kick from fly-half Joel Stransky (Scott Eastwood), with a score of 15-12. Mandela and Pienaar meet on the field together to celebrate the improbable and unexpected victory. Mandela's car is then seen driving away in the traffic-jammed streets leaving the stadium. As Mandela watches the South Africans celebrating together in the car, Morgan Freeman's voice is heard reciting the poem, "Invictus".


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See Nelson Mandela's Digital Archive

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