Invictus Mandela

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How wonderful to see a string of good movies about Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s all-too-recent history: Winnie, Invictus

draft, gotta edit

2015 09 26 Invictus is a movie directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Morgan Freeman. There are layers of stacks of things to say about that, dramatic quality, casting excellence, story values … And I’ll get to as much of that as I can: but, before “Invictus” was an impressive movie, it was a famous poem, from long ago, the Victorian age: a poem by William Ernest Henley, written after he’d had one leg amputated and was in danger of losing the other.

I must start with the poem.

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

In one word, I hate it. I have long hated it.
My first year teaching college, back in 1967, my first assignment in English composition class was for the students to prove they were familiar with the business letter form by writing me a personal letter introducing themselves but using the business form. One gal quoted Invictus and declared it her favorite poem! Poor girl, she probably assumed she’d be blowing my socks off. It wasn’t all her fault that I seethed.

The poem was published in 1888, had been written in 1875. The title was added by a later publisher, for an anthology. I’ve known the poem since high school, hated it by college. Well before high school I committed myself to a seeming acceptance of the tenets of Christianity. I was an adult, thirty-something before I realized that the position was not just fraught with difficulties but was in whole and in part impossible.

Whatever gods may be, indeed.
a second draft will help

Moses told the Jews that God had Ten Commandments for them. The Jews were told that their fate was not up to them but up to God. God wanted the Jews to take the Canaanites land, God wanted the Jews to do the heavy lifting, the killing, but it was up to God, not the Jews, what the Jews got. In fact wit was up to God what the Jews wanted. Free will became in issue under the Christians.

It’s a different world that Henley was dreaming in, in 1875. But I’m writing about the Eastwood movie. For now just note that Victorian faith (in naval power, the a mercantile state) is strict blasphemy in every detail compared to any of the major Christian dogmas: if you believe you have a “soul”, and your soul has a “captain”, then that captain is not you, it’s God!

Should Hollywood care what’s blasphemy and what isn’t? No, no, I certainly don’t think so: though Hollywood should know before it fictionalizes, before it dramatizes, what will get planes flown into the WTC: what will get Jesus crucified, what will get Hypatia stoned and flayed.

Now: as movie:
Who could have guessed that Clint, Clint of Dirty Harry, Clint of spaghetti westers, the Clint of trigger-happt maleness would make great profound morally challenging films, ever? He even wound up making great stone-killer films: Unforgiven!

But never mind that: focus just on Morgan Freeman. Morgan Freeman has always been good, sometimes very good: certainly from Driving Miss Daisy and on, the more so as he and Clint learned that the two actors go together like ham and eggs. But even when we’re singling Freeman out, celebrating him, he’s still flying under the normal radar of ordinary greatness.
Here he reflects Mandela’s qualities, a double whammy. Jesus, what a job. And he’s simply gorgeous. Morgan Freeman is even more gorgeous as Nelson Mandela than he ever was in a wide world of roles, partly because Nelson Mandela was so gorgeous.

Mandela was a Xhosa. He was under no cultural obligation to be a Christian. “Whatever gods may be” may not offend him. What’s crazy is that in his behavior Mandela was a Christian, the only one in South Africa, nearly the only one in the world! He was forgiving, compassionate, yielding: loving. He turned the other cheek. He got his people to turn the other cheek. They wanted revenge, they wanted the shoe on the other foot, they wanted to jail the jailers, and who can blame them? But he talked his people into coexisting with the racists, many of whom thereafter ceased to be quite such racists.

Speaking of casting, Mat Damon provides some marvelous beefcake, and an amazing Afrikans accent!

more comin
But: what’s wrong here, isn’t that we’re sons of bitches, we all know that; it’s that we still live in nations! South Africa, the United States, England … Germany. Spain, the Netherlands, for God’s sake. I had mixed feelings about cheering along with Mandela for his nation’s redolent of apartheid rugby team.

When my son and a friend and I saw The Killing Fields, back in the 1980s, at the end, I just wanted everybody dead: the Cambodians, the Thais, the Communists, the Vietnamese, the Americans, the French … Everybody!

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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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