“Invictus”(2009) is masterful. When the Springboks, a South African Rugby team, wins the 1995 World Cup, we see a near miracle of unification. Nelson Mandela, newly elected, chooses the nearly all-white (read “Africaner” or “Boer”) rugby team as a symbol to stitch together the racially and economically divided country after the struggle to end apartheid. Forgiveness becomes an important tool in Mandela’s search for reconciliation nationwide.

“Invictus” [Latin for “invincible” or “unconquerable”] takes its title from a short poem by the English poet William Ernest Henley written in 1875 and first published in 1888 as part of a series of poems entitled Life and Death (Echoes). [See the entire text below.] Its last two lines are famous: “I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul.”

In the film, this poem served as a source of inspiration during Nelson Mandela’s long imprisonments. From his first arrest in 1962 through 1990 at both Robbin Island off the coast of Cape Town and at Pollsmoor Prison nearer the mainland Mandela knew the life of a prisoner first hand.

“Invictus” becomes a unifying symbol in the film as Mandela gives the poem to Springbok captain, Francois Pienaar, before the Rugby World Cup. In fact, Mandela gave Pienaar an extract from Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech from 1910.

Clint Eastwood’s sons Kyle Eastwood, who contributed original music, and son Scott Eastwood, cast as one of the Springboks, show some of the range in the Eastwood family. The film’s uplifting score features the capella singing group “Overtone” from Johannesburg.

Director Clint Eastwood deftly shapes “Invictus” with strong performances by stars Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. “Invictus” is a film of enormous integrity and heart.

by William Ernest Henley

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.

Similar Posts


  1. When either Barbara Jordan or Shirley Chisholm (I forget which) was elected, she was quickly attacked by the black community for hiring whites to serve on her staff. Her response was along the lines of, they were the best people for the jobs, further declaring that what blacks wanted was an equal chance, not favoritism.

    Mandela took an even larger risk in using a white rugby team to unite black and white South Africa; and showed at least as deep a wisdom.

  2. Thanks for this review. It sounds to be another powerful production by Eastwood the director. I will put this in my Netflix cue for whenever it’s released on DVD.

  3. Kendra,

    Yes, Eastwood is a solid model for getting better with time rather than decline. I respect his development of the course of his career and his life. It’s not easy being Clint or any figure in the spotlight. Folks point too to his wife as a stabilizer and unifier in the extended family. Good for her!


    Both Chisholm and Mandela looked beyond the moment to the future. They looked beyond the hurts of generations to healing and unification. History and humanity must thank them both.


  4. What a wonderful poem. My brother had high praise for this film and we immediately added it to our Netflix cue. The poem has been copied into my notebook to be reread and remembered.

    Eastwood is amazing and a wonderful example for anyone who says, “I’m too old to do (that)”.

    Lindy (AZ)

  5. Lindy,

    I’m so glad you liked the poem. I was so glad to see the entire text to go with the last two lines which are so famous.

    Yes…we need to get hip to longevity and do something with it. That’s the point, isn’t it?


  6. Hi, Janet,

    Thanks for writing and sharing this review. If I had known you wrote it, I might have posted it instead of writing my own. You have some great insights that I didn’t include. I can’t believe I didn’t mention the theme of forgiveness. I’ll try to add it soon. Meanwhile, please, feel free to leave a comment on my blog. http://www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com or my myspace page. Thanks again for the lovely review and for including the poem!

    Movie blessings!

  7. Jana,

    I’m so glad you like my review. I’ve cut back on my movie reviewing, but this was one I wanted to support. I didn’t cry, but I was deeply moved.

    I lived in Southern Africa in the 1970s. I often traveled to The Republic of South Africa during the Apartheid era. In 2008 when I went back, everything was differnt…and also not different. Certainly these personal experiences affected how I responded to Invictus.

    I admire the work you do on http://www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com and hope many Riehlife readers come to know your site.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *