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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Invictus

By
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.





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Athanasius: Athanasius led a tumultuous but dedicated life of service to the Church. He was the great champion of the faith against the widespread heresy of Arianism, the teaching by Arius that Jesus was not truly divine. The vigor of his writings earned him the title of doctor of the Church. 
<p>Born of a Christian family in Alexandria, Egypt, and given a classical education, Athanasius became secretary to Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, entered the priesthood and was eventually named bishop himself. His predecessor, Alexander, had been an outspoken critic of a new movement growing in the East—Arianism. </p><p>When Athanasius assumed his role as bishop of Alexandria, he continued the fight against Arianism. At first it seemed that the battle would be easily won and that Arianism would be condemned. Such, however, did not prove to be the case. The Council of Tyre was called and for several reasons that are still unclear, the Emperor Constantine exiled Athanasius to northern Gaul. This was to be the first in a series of travels and exiles reminiscent of the life of St. Paul. </p><p>After Constantine died, his son restored Athanasius as bishop. This lasted only a year, however, for he was deposed once again by a coalition of Arian bishops. Athanasius took his case to Rome, and Pope Julius I called a synod to review the case and other related matters. </p><p>Five times Athanasius was exiled for his defense of the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. During one period of his life, he enjoyed 10 years of relative peace—reading, writing and promoting the Christian life along the lines of the monastic ideal to which he was greatly devoted. His dogmatic and historical writings are almost all polemic, directed against every aspect of Arianism. </p><p>Among his ascetical writings, his<i> Life of St. Anthony</i> (January 17) achieved astonishing popularity and contributed greatly to the establishment of monastic life throughout the Western Christian world.</p> American Catholic Blog Suffering is redemptive in part because it definitively reveals to man that he is not in fact God, and it thereby opens the human person to receive the divine.

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