If there are no villains, how do we know who the real heroes are? Invictus solves this problem by simply telling us, over and over and in a multitude of ways: there is only one true hero, and it is through him that the future is saved; there is only one true leader, and all others follow his lead. There is only one man who deserves gratitude, and all others thank him. There is one master of fate, and he is the captain not just of his soul, but of the soul of the country. All other captains are in his thrall. In the film Invictus, Nelson Mandela is the hero, and the only real villain is the demon of memory. According to the narrative of the film, the Mandela character must battle for the future of the country. But the largely American viewers for whom the film is primarily structured are not able—at least not with any real excitement or enthusiasm—to view the past as a major antagonist, for the simple reason that, in the case of South Africa, it has already been condemned and it has already lost. This is the major failing of this film: it has a hero with no villain, stock characters with no development, a story with no narrative, and a cumulating conquest that is no real event. As a result, the outcomes of the sports battles, which stand as a proxy for the outcome of the battle between Mandela and history, are never in doubt. Rather than an epic victory against overwhelming odds, the film's representation of the Springboks and Mandela simply achieve the inevitable.
Published in Volume 13, Issue 1-2, pages 138-145