This weekend, HK and I went to see Invictus.  Directed by Clint Eastwood, the movie stars Morgan Freeman as South African president Nelson Mandela, and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, the captain of the losing South African rugby team.

Honestly, I was not initially very enthusiastic about seeing this movie.  From what I know (admittedly little) about rugby, it is a violent and pointless game. OK, maybe Matt Damon can make it more tolerable, with his blonde hair and adorable smile.  There is still the issue of apartheid. Did I really want to watch a movie that combines the two subjects?   Well, with the fervor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday upon us, I felt the spirit and gave in. Good move!

Let me just start by saying that Morgan Freeman gives a stellar performance as Mandela, and amid the violence and racial tension depicted throughout most of the movie, Freeman manages to keep a reassuring and calming tone throughout.  Racial tension is everywhere, from the country’s rugby fans (they cheer against their home team, who represent apartheid), to the newly chosen security staff of the President.

With the approaching World Cup, Mandela sees the hope of unity through sport, meeting personally with Pienaar and encouraging the team’s interaction with the locals. The movie’s title, Invictus, comes from a poem that was Mandela’s inspiration during his nearly 30-year long prison term.  “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul” is the message portrayed to Pienaar, serving as his own inspiration to bring the team into contention to win the 1995 World Cup.

Eastwood deftly places tension into his movie, both personal and racial, and skillfully transforms that tension into humor and warmth. Don’t think of this movie as a Rugby flick, and don’t think of it as a history lesson in apartheid, either. Think of it as a study of the human spirit and what is possible if one truly believes.