The Most Demonstrably False Claim Made in a Movie Review This Year?

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12/10/2009 10:59 AM |


Ella Taylor’s Village Voice Media review of Invictus—a fine review which gets at the historical and political problems of its vision of a South Africa coming together once and for all under Mandela—starts off with this howler:

Aside from Morgan Freeman, who makes a fabulous Nelson Mandela, there’s this to savor about Invictus, a rosy tale of racial reconciliation neatly wrapped in a triumphalist sports movie: The film is blessedly free of Obama parallels.

Wait. What?

Nicolas Rapold’s L Mag review—it’s an interesting corrollary to Taylor’s review; Nic works hard to locate the movie within Eastwood’s body of work, and to parallel Mandela and Eastwood’s convention-embracing, something-we-can-all-agree-on leadership and filmmaking styles—lays out a few immediate parallels:

From Milk to Mandela: one year after Gus Van Sant’s biopic of an assassination foretold, Clint Eastwood’s new film depicts a charismatic, steadfast black pioneer pushing past treacherous rifts and governing with a grand teachable moment… it’s a film, like Milk, concerned with political inspiration and leading by example, avoiding divisive detail and pragmatically drumming up hope.

…the can-do drive it recounts evokes what a so-called era of Obama could look like in retrospect (complete with anxieties about assassination).

But if we grant Taylor that the charismatic trailblazing leader trying to unify through inspirational spectacle and his own charisma in general, and through sport in particular, is an implicit, rather than explicit parallel, and that there’s no intention behind the movie’s release a year into the Obama presidency, it’s a total coincidence… well, there’s still the scenes in which Mandela nudges his fellow black South Africans towards reconciliation by urging them to look forward, not look back (that’s almost a direct quote), among other moments played (like the movie’s many explanations of the rules of rugby) to the American audience.

In fact Invictus is what a rosy conservative vision of an Obama presidency might someday look like, once historical consensus has had its way: with its scenes of Mandela boyishly embracing the Springboks rugby team (and their apartheid-era colors), and the ‘boks inspiring white cops to hug black street kids, and white prejudice (among the team and their families) to melt swiftly away, Invictus offers us a world in which a first black president honorably and pragmatically went more than halfway to meet his old enemies, and they were more than happy to join with him.