Skip Navigation Links
Catholic News
Special Reports
Google Plus
RSS Feeds
ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments


John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon star in a scene from the movie "Invictus."
"Forgiveness liberates the soul." So says South African President Nelson Mandela, as adeptly impersonated by Morgan Freeman, in the uplifting sports drama "Invictus" (Warner Bros.).

Director Clint Eastwood's account, based on actual events and adapted from John Carlin's book "Playing the Enemy," effectively chronicles how Mandela transformed the race for a rugby championship into an opportunity to put that philosophy into widespread practice.

The initial situation, as detailed in the opening scenes, was hardly promising. With racial divides still deep, despite the recent downfall of apartheid, Mandela—fresh from his swift elevation from imprisoned dissident to chief executive—confronted a host of problems, including a rising crime rate and the lack of foreign investment in a state that had been an international pariah for decades.

Instinctively recognizing that interracial reconciliation must be his primary goal, however, Mandela settled on an unlikely means of achieving it, launching a campaign to unite his country behind the national rugby team as it competed in the 1995 World Cup competition, which South Africa hosted.

Despite the fact that the Springboks, as the team is known, though cherished by the white Afrikaner community, were widely hated by the soccer-playing black majority as the embodiment of pale privilege under the old regime, and undaunted by the crew's dismal record in the lead-up to the international meet, Mandela enlisted the help of their captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), to accomplish his long-shot goal.

As recounted by South African-born screenwriter Anthony Peckham, the two leaders' partnership sees Francois touched and changed by Mandela's forbearance as well as by the plight of black children in the impoverished townships to which Mandela dispatched Pienaar's squad in an effort to widen their game's popularity.

William Ernest Henley's Victorian-era poem, which Mandela cites as having strengthened him in prison, and from which the film takes its title, is at best spiritually ambivalent, since the poet thanks "whatever gods may be" for his "unconquerable soul." But the script's themes of generosity, openness and human solidarity are enhanced by religious references to the South African national anthem, "God Bless Africa," and by the prayer of thanksgiving offered, at a climactic moment, by the lone black player among the Springboks.

The moral and artistic merits of this inspiring tale, together with its salutary message, counterbalance the elements listed below, making it probably acceptable for mature teens.

The film contains brief scenes of violence, at least one use of the F-word, a few instances of crude and crass language and some mild sexual references. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

John Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Search reviews at

Thank you for your comments. Editors will review all posts before they are visible on the website.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog I discovered that my sins had created a spiritual racket that drowned out the gentle whispers of God to my soul; God had never actually abandoned me, but I needed repentance and sacramental grace to reawaken all that was good and beautiful in me.

Conversations with a Guardian Angel

St. Andrew Dung-Lac
Our common faith is our greatest treasure. Join Vietnamese Catholics around the world in honoring this 19th-century martyr.

With Thursday’s menu planned and groceries purchased, now is the time to send an e-card to far-away friends.

Christ the King
Our liturgical year ends as it begins, focusing on Our Lord’s eternal reign.

Christ the King
Our liturgical year ends as it begins, focusing on Our Lord’s eternal reign.

The Faithful Departed
An e-card can be a gentle reminder to pray for loved ones who have died. Choose one from

Come find us at: Facebook | St. Anthony Messenger magazine Twitter | American Catholic YouTube | American Catholic

An Site from the Franciscans and Franciscan Media Copyright © 1996 - 2015