Film Notes: Invictus
The second in a series, this article provides a preview of a movie you might like to see along with a vocabulary lesson for intermediate to advanced English learners. The selected vocabulary words are in bold and followed by succinct definitions. Sherlock Holmes was the previous article in the series – check back soon for the next.
Clint Eastwood’s new film Invictus tells the story of Nelson Mandela’s first days as president of post-apartheid South Africa in 1994. Morgan Freeman’s moving (evoking strong feelings) portrayal of Mandela’s gentle humor, elegant, old-fashioned courtesy, and fierce intelligence makes for a fascinating (very interesting) behind-the-scenes (theater metaphor: occuring backstage or out of the view of the general public) look at the birth of a new era.
Freeman’s Mandela is continually surprising his advisors and security personnel with his indefatigability (never getting tired) – as he charges out of his house for his pre-dawn (before sunrise) constitutionals (walking for exercise) at the beginning of marathon workdays – as well as with his emphasis on reconciliation (making harmony with your opponents or enemies) rather than recrimination in dealing with white South Africans.
In this spirit, Mandela makes the surprising decision to throw his whole-hearted (full, passionate) support behind the Springboks, the nearly all-white national rugby team that had become a hated symbol of oppression to most black South Africans. And so begins a remarkable turnaround (reversal of fortunes) for a team that seemed destined to make a poor showing as hosts of the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
If you’re watching the film to practice your English, Freeman’s stately (majestic), measured eloquence as Mandela will give you a sporting (good enough) chance to understand the vocabulary the first time around.
The grunting exertions of the rugby scenes are not so lengthy that they risk boring non-sports fans, and the underdog (not expected to win) status of the Springboks makes for stirring drama as their startling (very surprising) success is celebrated with boyish enthusiasm by Mandela.
In a quietly moving scene Damon’s character and the Springboks team visit the tiny (very small) Robben Island prison cell where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years as a political prisoner. The song 9,000 Days, the title of which refers to the length of time Mandela spent in prison, by the South African group Overtone with Yollande Nortjie, is featured in the soundtrack (the music in the film).
The title of the film – Latin for unconquered – is drawn from a poem by the 19th century poet William Ernest Henley that in the film Mandela gives to the Springboks’ captain for inspiration. In reality, Mandela did find inspiration in the poem while in prison but instead gave the Springboks’ captain a passage from a 1910 speech called The Man in the Arena by US president Teddy Roosevelt.
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.
Vocabulary from the poem:
fell (dreadful, cruel)
clutch (strong hold, grip)
winced (flinch, draw back from fear of pain)
bludgeonings (heavy blows or hits)
unbowed (not lowered)
looms (action to describe the taking shape of an impending event or the coming closer of something of impressive size)
menace (danger, threat)
strait (narrow – not the same as straight, which means without bend or curve)
scroll (list or roster)
If you see the film, let us know what you think of it!