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Synopsis for
Invictus (2009) More at IMDbPro »

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Invictus opens with the release of Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) from prison in 1990. After being held for nearly 26 years on Robben Island for planning acts of sabotage against the South African state, Mandela's release also marks what soon becomes the end of apartheid in South Africa. A new election is held, which Mandela handily wins. For his oath, he gives a speech pledging to unite the people of South Africa. The current divide has largely divided the Afrikaners (white South Africans that came from Europe during the 17th century) and the various black tribes, the largest of which include Zulu, Xhosa, and Bapedi. The effects of Mandela's victory give rise to jubilation for much of the black population of South Africa, while the white Afrikaners and Zulu begin to feel that they're losing the country. This is punctuated by a squadron of cars carrying Mandela down a road, poor black kids playing soccer on one side, white Afrikaners playing rugby on the other. The coach of the National team, the Springboks, tells his team to remember this day, as it marks 'the day the country went to the dogs'.

Mandela's head of security Jason Tshabalala (Tony Kgoroge) makes a request of Mandela concerning the team. He asks for more personnel to secure the president, the current team being made up of four blacks. Mandela's response is to hire four white former Special Branch members led by Etienne Feyder (Julian Lewis Jones). On first meeting, they clash due to deep-seated racial issues, yet are compelled to work out their differences. Seeing that he has no choice but to work alongside them, Tshabalala tells his black co-workers, especially Linga Moonsamy (Patrick Mofokeng), that while working together, they will watch the whites carefully.

In his first days in office, the tension is palpable, as most of the former president's underlings (mostly Afrikaners) still hold their jobs. Worried that Mandela will fire them, they begin packing up their belongings, awaiting what they assume is the inevitable. Upon seeing this, Mandela holds a conference and makes an impromptu speech in which he informs his staff that he won't fire anyone who used to work for the old regime, and that they need to work together to promote racial equality throughout South Africa. The speech goes over well without any dissenters.

Mandela soon begins taking pre-sunrise walks accompanied by two security personnel. While walking through the streets, a blue van, making wild turns while speeding, comes upon Mandela. While security fears an attack, it is merely a man delivering newspapers.

We are soon introduced to Franois Pienaar (Matt Damon), current captain of the South African Springboks rugby team, made up of whites save for one black member named Chester, who misses upcoming games due to a hamstring injury. For many black South Africans, the Springbok name, logo, and colors represent the dark history and perceived racial injustice of apartheid and they thus refuse to support them, rooting for England instead when they play the Springboks. With less than a year to the rugby World Cup in 1995 (which South Africa is hosting), the Springboks lose more games than win, and are highly anticipated to lose early in the tournament to Australia.

Having read that the Springboks' coach has been replaced (with captain Franois still remaining), Mandela begins to think in terms of how he's going to unite South Africa and put away their differences and sees rugby as the vehicle to do so. Since most Afrikaners fear losing their identity, Mandela aims to unite them by keeping the Springbok name (opposing the Sports Comission's unanimous vote change the team name to the Proteas) and using the upcoming world cup as an example of how to overcome South Africa's apartheid past.

Mandela personally travels to the commission to change its mind, saying that by keeping their former colors/name, they can reach out to Afrikaners, who believe that Mandela is out to rid South Africa of their presence. This doesn't go over well with the commission, and by the time he leaves, Mandela has acquired only 13 votes for his proposal. Still, he sees this as progress, as those votes were enough for him to keep the Springboks name. His assistant, Brenda Mazibuko (Adjoa Andoh), disagrees with him, and wishes Mandela would concern himself with more important matters than rugby, a sentiment shared by others in the administration. Nonetheless, Mandela forges ahead with his own plans, which include inviting Franois to tea.

An Afrikaner on the security team asks Franois how the Springboks will fare this year. Despite Franois promising that they'll do their best, the Afrikaner decides that they have absolutely no chance and tells the rest of the team as much. Inside his office, Mandela talks to Franois about inspiration and how to motivate under extreme pressure. He mentions a poem that kept his spirits up while he was imprisoned and Franois tells him he understands, mentioning a particular song the team sings before every match. While not directly asking Franois, Mandela implies that a win for their team in the Cup could have huge ramifications for South Africa by uniting Afrikaners and the other tribes that make up South Africa.

In an attempt to convey Mandela's message, Franois gives his team copies of the South African national anthem, telling them that they shouldn't mumble through the words like they used to, but rather actually learn it and sing it properly. Most of the team crumples up their copies, saying they have no interest. Francois recants and says it is optional. They are ordered, however, by Mandela, to take occasional breaks from their rigorous training schedule, go out into the townships and teach rugby to the natives. At first, Chester (McNeil Hendricks), the team's only black player, is swarmed by the township kids, but soon the entire team is out there helping a new generation to learn rugby and instill national pride, regardless of ancestry. Franois reminds his team that life and the game implies change all the time and their team is no different.

Mandela is found outside his home, unconscious. While his doctor orders complete bed rest to sustain his energy, Mary keeps his schedule open so that he can follow rugby. The tournament is soon underway and the Springboks surprise everyone by besting Australia. They continue to take morning runs, and as they win more games, their support by all South Africans continues to rise, and they continue to advance in the tournament. After a match, Franois proclaims that they need a break and they head to Robben Island, where Mandela was held. Standing inside Mandela's former cell, Franois is dismayed to see how small it is (barely covering his arm span), with a sheet on the ground to sleep on. Through voice over, the poem Mandela mentioned to Franois earlier is recited while the team looks out over where prisoners broke rocks as part of their labor while imprisoned.

The final day before the match finds the Springboks taking another early morning run. This time they are joined by both white and black South Africans cheering them on to victory. Before the match, the security team is nervous, as it will be the most exposed Mandela has been since taking office. Extra sharpshooters take up positions on adjacent roofs while the rest of security take posts inside the stadium. A 747 jet, whose captain (David Dukas) announces full responsibility for his actions to the co-captain (Grant Swanby) (thus leading people to believe he might commit a terrorist attack), flies the jet low over the stadium, displaying the words 'Go Springboks' painted underneath. The crowd erupts in cheers.

The final match is between the undefeated New Zealand All Blacks and the Springboks, which 62,000 fans have turned up at the stadium to watch. Chester's injury has finally healed and he's been cleared for the game. NZ has mostly shut out other teams in the tournament thus far, the closest score having been won by 20 points. Though the odds don't favor S.A., they resolve to do their best. The game stays tied throughout and goes back and forth, South Africa mostly playing catch-up whenever N.Z. kicks a goal for three points. In the end, S.A. is able to edge out New Zealand by three points as the clock runs out. South Africa wins 15-12.

After the trophy presentation the streets of South Africa are ecstatic, with South Africans of all ancestries cheering the Springboks in celebration. Mandela's security team is seen trying to make its way through the crowd with little luck, but Mandela says that there is no need for them to rush. Their national pride, at least for the moment, seems to have been somewhat restored in the eyes of themselves, not to mention the rest of the world. The film ends with the final recitation of the poem, Invictus (which is Latin, meaning 'unconquered').

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.


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