Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Theologically Subversive Message of Invictus

I went to see Clint Eastwood's latest movie, Invictus, and the more I think about it the more puzzled I am.

What is it?

See it. You should. If you don't want to, here's some rundown: the official site (which really only has trailers. It's not a worthwhile source of information about the film), the imdb entry, and the rottentomatoes page. See what a nice guy I am? I spoon-feed you all the information you need, so you don't have to find it for yourself. I'm so cool.

I've told you to watch the movie, so if you don't want to get it spoiled, go away now. Because I want to talk about the movie, and the first thing I'm going to end up saying is related to a spoliative finish.

While you're leaving, here's the poem that the film centers around. It's called Invictus, believe it or not, and it was written by a dude named Ernest William Henley. Here it is:



Invictus

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 unbow'd.

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.

I could have linked to the poem, but I wanted to give some of you, my imaginary readership, the chance to leave before I spoiled the ending. Anyway, here's the spoiler: South Africa wins the Rugby World Cup, and Nelson Mandela survives to the end and is triumphant.

Now, my first problem is this: the film is too predictable. I mean, it doesn't even really try to be unpredictable. Even possible threats of violence, like the newspaper dude in the beginning and the airplane pilot about two thirds of the way through, become opportunities for the scriptwriter to stick it to the audience. And the win at the end? I could see it coming a mile away.

Second, Invictus is not self-aware: the movie doesn't know what it itself is. Is it a sports movie? If so, why the puffing of Mandela? Is it a biopic? If so, why is the film so rugby-centered? Is it a cultural statement? If that's the case, why is racism such an obvious plot device instead of being center-stage?

Finally--and most important to this still provincially-minded blogger--Invictus is a statement (whether conscious or not, I can't tell) against the sovereignty of God. See, the "moral" of the film is that you are in complete control of your ultimate destiny--read the poem if you want to know more about this particular mindset. My problem with this is that it's stupid. If we just have to want something enough in order to get it...well, why was Mandela in prison for 27 years or however long he was there? Why did the Springboks suck at rugby? Was it because that was their chosen destiny? Did Mandela say to himself, "I will myself to stay in prison for 27 years"? Did the Bokkes get together at a team meeting and say, "We hereby choose to continue failing for years and years to come"? Of course not! Yet this is what happened to them. For the last time, humanity: YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL! Free-will is involved, of course, but fundamentally, humans can NOT choose their destiny. I won't even say that God is in control, though I believe that; before even that statement may be made, humanity as a whole needs to get it through its collective skull that humans are NOT the masters of their fate--they are NOT the masters of their own souls.

What is Invictus? Sports movie? Puff piece? Biopic? Drama? Romantic comedy? What? See it, and let me know.

Ps. I did like the rugby. Now there's a man's game; no pads, helmets, or skin-tight pants. Just a fight to the finish. And some pretty complicated rules, too.

Long live cinematic confusion!

2 comments:

Daniel said...

Completely disagree- humans are in control. He was put in jail by other humans and was not smart/strong enough to get out. The other team was aso bad because they did not practice and play enough, hone their skills, etc. They weren't born worse players, they just weren't able to make themselves as good.

Ian the Pontificator said...

Here's my basic problem with the message of Invictus, both film and poem: practically, the idea that I am in control of my own destiny is hogwash. No human is in control of his/her own fate: look at Mandela! He was in jail for 20+ years; do you think he wanted that? Do you think that he sat in his cell and said, "I want my fate to be 12 more years of prison!"? Now my wording may have confused you: I'm not saying that humans can't have control over each other. I'm just saying that to believe that individuals can affect their ultimate fate is frighteningly blind.

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