a little east of reality

Saturday, February 06, 2010


I quite like Clint Eastwood as a director, and he did a good job on this movie. It did gloss over Mandela's personal life (past infidelities and the like), only hinting at his problems. In one way this was a shame, because the contrast of his private weaknesses against his public successes would have made for an interesting study.
But the story it did tell was quite inspiring. Mandela had a choice when he took office. After 30 years in prison, some would have only been interested in revenge, but he recognised that this wasn't a useful approach. He showed compassion and fairness to the white minority who really didn't deserve it given their history. One of the symbols of that group was the Springbok rugby team and he engaged with the team, found ways to allow South African blacks to engage with them, too, in positive ways. And all of this leading up to the Rugby World Cup, which South Africa was hosting.
The title of the movie (which means 'unconquered') actually reflects an interesting choice, from the director and the writer. In the movie, just before the Cup, Mandela gives the Springbok captain Francois Pienaar a copy of a poem he says gave him hope while he was in prison. It's not bad either, as inspiring words go.
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.

There's just one thing ~ that isn't what Mandela actually gave Pienaar. In real life, Mandela gave him an extract from Theodore Roosevelt's "The Man in the Arena" speech from 1910. The thing is, the extract is wonderful, and it's much more apt for a captain taking his team into the competition of their lives, with the country hanging on their success. The pressure must have been enormous, and they were copping constant flack in the media in the year leading up to the Cup. This is the extract:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Damn straight, Teddy. Wise words. I really wish they'd used it in the movie. Given how precariously Mandela risked failure in order to bring his country together at a crucial moment, I think that extract was the better choice.
Not sure if there's anyone out there still reading this blog after such a long break, but if so, what piece of writing do you find inspiring/motivating?

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