Monday, February 22, 2010

Invictus, the Movie and Mandela, The Man by Edwin Young (Film Review)

“Invictus”, the Movie and the Man Mandela
By Edwin L. Young, PhD

Clint Eastwood’s weltanchaungen is pure Americana. From the Wild West tough as steel and good as gold gunslingers to the on-the-outs lawman guardian of democracy on the home front to macho modern women to global battlefields and finally to revolution and reformation in a third world nation, Eastwood’s fame has been established on indomitable hero and heroine characters fighting against insurmountable odds and winning. His movies are all of a type one could call the “Invictus” type and seem almost to be an extension of what I would presume to label as his own, but not terribly idiosyncratic, ‘invictus’ type of personality.

Eastwood’s finesse as a director justly earns him the appellation of one of the greats among movie directors. Yet, with respect to those American-ish accolades, I must desist and retract from the consensus that he is well deserved of being worshipped as a hero in the cinematic world. I must make a case that warrants my detraction from his halo awarded by the film critics, and even me to an extent but with reservations.

I strongly suspect that he is a true believer in his version of this pure Americana weltanchaungen. Unfortunately, and I am sure unwittingly, this thematic schema underlying his work is aiding in perpetuating a broader cultural motif. While seemingly a hallmark of inimitably strong and laudable characters and his own character as well, this pattern in his movies is actually a prominent yet unacknowledged source of America(n)’s proclivity for using force and violence to deal with conflicts with those who are considered unsavory and misguided antagonists both within our nation and abroad. Ironically, the same characteristic which is considered worthy of being emulated for the good of the country is, nevertheless, one that contributes to fostering those very same conflicts which presumably is his intention is to put to an end.

Paradoxically, “Invictus” is an exception to his themes. It simultaneously proves and disproves a justification for his upholding of his devotion to this macho cultural motif. Surely this movie is a glowing example of that indomitable will with head bloodied but unbowed. On the other hand, Mandela himself, and Mandela’s political strategy is the most telling example of a diametrically opposite belief system about what true human greatness is and what the most effective means are for dealing with those who are considered ideologically oppositional, unsavory, misguided antagonists, and enemies, both within his, and our nation, and abroad. Mandela, an internationally famous yet solitary ‘consensus of one’ within his fiercely divided nation with its formerly mutually violent and now mutually suspicious and antipathetic parties, stands as the turning point, as a pivotal force, for future world history.

What was Mandela’s strategy and why was he successful in stemming the tide of national, mutual animosity between Africans and Afrikaners? He used two things. First he used the management strategy of interlocking objectives. What this means is that two camps (or two departments in a corporation that are typically rivals) can be, in this case, made to feel that the success and well-being of each depends upon each striving to make sure the other reaches their goal successfully. Second he took on a challenge to make a national symbol, South Africa’s Rugby team, the winner of the international tournament. At the beginning they were considered the dark horse, the darkest of all in the competition. He his victorious election to the presidency of South Africa after having been imprisoned for thirty years by the Afrikaners made him a folk hero of monumental proportions to the blacks and an awesome figure to be feared and reviled, but secretly revered, by the losing Afrikaners. So, when he sent for the Captain of the Rugby team to join him in the quest, against all odds, to win the world cup and had them shown on national TV, with the whole nation watching, he put in progress a plan to unite the nation in supporting its team in their determination to win. His public appearances, drawing attention to their county’s ambitions for their Rugby team throughout the days preceding the tournament, began to make the nation see him as championing the cause of all South Africans, black and white.

Interlocking objectives! Both sides were gradually induced to work for a success that would be their mutual victory and, in the end, to him see as the leader favoring, not one side, not just the blacks, but all South Africans.
His character, forged into iron from his early days as a political activist, was further forged into steel while in prison as he read the great books of the world and observed and studied the Afrikaner guards.

One major factor not mentioned in the movie was that it was F. W. de Klerk, the last President of the apartheid South African State, who brought him those books over all of those years. I speculate that de Klerk did much more than just bring him books. Mandela, much like Hitler and many other famous leaders who read and thought and planned while imprisoned, in an environment sealed off from the immediate pressures that make men small-minded, grew into a highly educated, highly independent, deep and deeply universalistic thinker and planner.

What I see in all of this is his abdication of the belief in the cult of the individual. The cult of the individual essentially is the message behind the message in the poem “Invictus.” Notwithstanding the invictus message, Mandela now had a new assumption and a new understanding of the encompassing nature of structures and systems. He eventually saw how the system, of racially antipathetic, politically opposing parties, was intertwined with a multitude of other, mutually influencing and sustaining, systems. Further, he eventually saw that there were fulcrums within those systems which others may not see but which could be used to alter them, from the most encompassing at the state and even international level, to the interactions between former antagonists, and ultimately alter even the character, personalities, and behavior of all individual citizens.

This is the meaning of a true, great statesman! One who understands how he and all people are shaped by the structures and systems within which they exist and then turns that around to reshape those very same structures and systems for the greater good.

Author bio:

You can read more of Edwin's work at his website: the Natural Systems Institute

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