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
Freeman plays Nelson Mandela after his liberation from prison, as the President of South Africa, just getting into the job, but making clear from the start that he wants blacks and whites integrated. Matt Damon is François Pienaar, the captain of South Africa's rugby team, the Springboks, which at the beginning of the film is truly a lousy team.
Seeking to unify blacks and whites as a single country, Mandela watches the Springboks get crushed by England's team. Shortly thereafter, the current Sports Commission tries to wipe out the team altogether and replace it because it had represented the evil South African government that oppressed them. Mandela drops in right after the vote to single-handedly reverse the decision, as he believes that just wiping out the Springboks would convince the white population that the blacks in power here really are the menace they think they are.
Mandela tries to get the Springboks to be a great team, with help from Pienaar. At the same time, Mandela must get the black citizens to support the Springboks, and takes steps to make the team more acceptable to them, when they (and he) used to automatically cheer against them. Because it used to represent the old government, blacks wouldn't accept Springbok clothes when they were given away, so Mandela has to get it to represent his own...
Yes, this is Serious Business. If you're not into big-league sports, then it may hard to believe that the future of South Africa can hinge on one sports team. Heck, Mandela's cabinet has trouble with the idea. If you are into big-league sports and can step back for a moment, then it makes slightly more sense.
Based on John Carlin's Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation.
- The Apartheid Era: The movie starts at the very end.
- Big Game
- David Versus Goliath: Everybody vs. the apparently unstoppable Jonah Lomu.
- Truth in Television. Look up some footage of him against England in that world cup.
- Did Not Do the Research: The rugby sequences are littered with basic errors that would never appear in an actual match, and as for union flags at an England match...
- Epiphany Therapy: Pienaar and his rugby team visiting Mandela's prison cell.
- Follow the Leader: Soon after this movie, the Biopic Winnie was announced, about the life of Nelson's estranged wife, Winnie Mandela, starring Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard as Winnie and Nelson Mandela.
- Huddle Shot: Several.
- I Coulda Been a Contender: The sports reporter who won't stop ripping into the Springboks team is said to be bitter because he wasn't chosen to play for them.
- Literary Allusion Title: The title comes from William Ernest Henley's poem, which Mandela recites in the movie.
- Notable Original Music: "9,000 Days Invictus" and "Colorblind", both written by Clint Eastwood and performed by the South African a capella group Overtone.
- Oscar Bait
- Redemption Quest: The entire country.
- Serious Business: Rugby. Several shots show deserted streets and bars overcrowded with people watching the big game.
- Mandela is seen working around matters of state -- trade relations with Asia, for instance -- to deal with Springbok-related matters or watch their games, even before the big ones.
- In South Africa, it really is.
- And there was the fact that South Africa was not a favorite in the World Cup, yet in 1995 they did end up winning it. The fact that they were the host country made it all the more important -- the whole world was watching the newly-"reconciled" country.
- Slo Mo
- Spot of Tea: "The English have given us many things, including Rugby, but afternoon tea... that is the greatest."
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: The black and white members of Mandela's bodyguard team. Eventually however, they get over it.
- Those Two Guys: Two of the bodyguards appear recurrently, showing the evolution of feelings between blacks and whites.
- Token Minority: Chester, although this is justified.