I’m trying to equate what I saw in the current film `Invictus’ with what I see today in America.
The film, directed by the amazing almost-80-year-old Clint Eastwood, focuses on president Nelson Mandela’s attempt to build national unity and pride in racially-torn South Africa shortly after his election. His unlikely tool is the Springboks, the mostly-white and mediocre national rugby team.
In a compelling performance by Morgan Freeman, Mandela succeeds in convincing the team’s white captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), that winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup at home is not only possible but that a victory would go toward a far greater good. It would bring their country together.
Whatever I think of the film’s artistic qualities is unimportant. The message is what I take to heart.
I don’t know if Eastwood had America in mind when he decided to do `Invictus.’ But I can see many parallels. I see a newly-elected black president, Barrack Obama, ala Mandela, and a divisive country that is barely treading water, if not sinking in its own murky stew of ideology, anger, hate, religion, jealousy and pettiness. We do not live in red states or blue ones. We live in an ugly gray world of in-fighting and unholy compromise.
What Obama needs, and has not found, is his own “rugby team,” a unifying force to mend a country slit apart by everything under the sun. He likely will not find one, although I think in many ways he has tried. This country wasted a chance to pull together after 9/11. It was wasted when our president, George W. Bush, told us to go back about our business, that he would take care of everything. And he promptly set off in a bewildering war in Iraq, giving a free pass to those in Afghanistan who attacked us.
A common focus and cooperation have no meaning here anymore. Many Americans are confused as to who their enemies really are. They line up on teams. Conservatives v. Liberals. Harsh words fly back and forth, while the real enemies advance. Enemies like diseases, job losses overseas, expensive healthcare, greenhouse gases and corporations too big to fail.
My guess is this. America is a long way from anything close to unity. It will continue to flounder. Many years will pass before this country scrapes bottom. Only then, like South Africa, can it hope to rebound. That said, America will need its own Mandela, a selfless visionary with the courage to fight the old biases.
In the meantime, should my spirits sag while living in this gray, gray nation, I can rent “Invictus” and feel good for a moment or two.