Invictus & Ransom
In worlds without empathy, fear often prospers, not only further compounding conflicts, but also leaving societal boundaries near insurmountable. Both Malouf and Eastwood expose the catastrophic denial of establishing “fellow-feeling” between conflicting groups through the ensuing perpetuation of prejudice. When Priam approaches Hecuba with his vision of venturing into Achilles’ camp, he is faced with her “hissing” disapproval and condemnation, with the sibilance exemplifying her discontent as she dismisses his plan as fanciful. In this moment, while her contempt is understandable, her failure to consider the slightest possibility of a shared humanity with Achilles, instead characterising him as a “jackal” and a “noble bully” only reinforces the disconnect between the two groups. This repudiation of compassion is echoed in Invictus, where as a result of the immense racial divide in South Africa, the Afrikaner rugby coach instantly identifies Mandela as a “terrorist” and likewise adopts a harsh animalistic characterisation of him, claiming that this the “day our country went to the dogs”. Therefore, the behaviour of both Hecuba and the coach is commensurate with a denial of empathy: it discounts the humanity of others, and thus expresses a refusal to see them as fellow, equal men. Here, Eastwood’s presentation of rigid fences separating the Africans and Afrikaners symbolises not only the deep racial cleft between the two groups, but also the effect of this confined and restrictive mentality which “does not serve the nation”, leaving them incapable of traversing the metaphorical road which separates them. Thus, Hecuba’s mentality also serves as a synecdoche for the detrimental typification of “the old way of thinking”, leaving her ignorant of the suffocating burden that Achilles is under. Hence, both Malouf and Eastwood suggest that without empathy, the deep cleft separating opposing groups will never be closed.
Subsequently, the discovery of a shared humanity, often achieved through storytelling, is deemed integral in transcending rigid societal boundaries. In particular, Somax’s tales of his daughter’s love for “griddlecakes”, which serve as the nexus of the prosaic, compels Priam to cherish the simple pleasures of quotidian life, allowing him to experience the “lightness” – a metaphor for the alleviation and transformation of his spirit. Initially “aloof” from such encounters, Priam now has the opportunity to ingratiate himself with the ordinary realm. However, Malouf hesitates in presenting this as an easy transformation, for it was Priam’s own belated acknowledgement that the griddlecakes might “have ingredients” which elucidates the difficult shift from a king concerned with the abstract to an “ordinary man” aware and engaged with the world around him. Likewise, while Pienaar is also guided by conversations, Eastwood adopts Mandela – a high-ranking official, instead of the low-class carter Somax to alleviate Pienaar’s distress. Nevertheless, just like Priam’s initial quandary, Pienaar is also characterised as being unnerved by Mandela’s presidential status, with the long shot juxtaposing the towering size of parliament house and his insignificant figure accentuating his feelings of intimidation. His nervousness is palpable when he asks Hendrik, “What’s he like?”, with his tense demeanour reflective of their clear disparity in social hierarchy. Yet, Mandela dispels Pienaar’s fear with just three words: “How’s your ankle?”, a simple phrase conveying no superiority or condescension, rather empathy and great humility. In a way, the “coolness” that Priam experiences metaphorically represents the power of “small talk” in traversing through the rigidity of social constructs. Therefore, Pienaar and Mandela’s symbolic encounter encapsulates the unity and breakdown of social division, as the two leaders converse not as president and captain, but as ordinary friends. Ultimately, while both texts affirm the indispensable nature of human connection to form cohesion, Malouf stresses the importance of never underestimating the potential of unexpected places in providing inspiration.
The insatiable retributive zeal associated with the imprisonment within the traumas of the past can often only be expunged by reconciling with such difficulties. While both Malouf and Eastwood demonstrate the importance of forgiving the past transgressions of others to resolve conflicts through the problematic nature of vengeance, Eastwood offers the audience a more optimistic perspective compared to Malouf, who exacerbates the exceedingly difficult nature of breaking through such cycles of desolation through the near cyclical nature of his novel. In particular, Achilles’ inability to move on from the misgivings of Patroclus’ death renders him impotent and paralysed in the “clogging grey web” – emblematic for the intense misery that has immobilised him – and subsequently manifests itself into an “all-consuming rage” which cannot be wholly extirpated. Therefore, in response, he catapults himself to commit an “outrage…that would assuage his grief”. But, even the most potent forces in Ransom – the gods – impede upon his quest for revenge by rejuvenating Hector’s body, insinuating that revenge can only be pyrrhic and futile. Mirroring Achilles’ desire for vengeance, albeit, on a smaller scale, Jason too expresses his deep resentment towards his Afrikaner co-workers, struggling to accept Mandela’s orders to work alongside former oppressors who “not long ago tried to kill them.” In confronting Mandela, a close-up shot depicts Jason seething in anger and disbelief, almost petulantly storming out as he perceives Mandela’s suggestion of reconciliation to be affront, preferring to remain spiteful and vindictive rather than letting “the past be the past”. However, both Achilles and Jason are eventually visited by a lightness – a metaphor for the cleansing effect upon their souls – which can only be achieved by offering clemency to their counterparts. Through the return of Hector’s body – the symbol of Achilles’ inability to overcome the past – and the handshake between Jason and the white security guards amidst the cheering crowds, each effectively symbolises the ultimate acceptance with their opposition, and thus forgiveness. Hence, both Malouf and Eastwood, by presenting revenge as problematic to achieving “perfect amity”, each stresses the importance of reconciliation to resolve conflicts.
Yet, the degree and longevity of change that forgiveness can stimulate in resolving conflicts is often limited by external and uncontrollable forces. Both texts diverge through their exploration of the extent that forgiveness can empower individuals. For Priam, it is merely the attainment of a personal objective, whereas for Mandela, there seems to be a universal empowerment of an entire nation. Undoubtedly, while Priam’s achievements are truly remarkable, returning to Troy as a “man remade” and as a “hero of the deed”, Malouf’s emphasises that his triumphs are truly limited to himself. Contrastingly, while Priam only achieve success in the personal realm, the ubiquity of Mandela’s teachings of forgiveness materialise when Eastwood presents images of the Pienaar family attempting to mouth the words of the new national anthem, serving as a microcosm for the willingness of the Afrikaners to unite with the Africans. Thus, Eastwood presents the endless possibilities of a “new era” in the optimistic imagery of racial amalgamation united under “rainbow flags”, radiating forth a more buoyant mood when compared to Malouf’s sombre setting, where an uneasy stillness in the air is comparatively more perturbing. Thus, while Eastwood suggests the continual progression towards the unification of South Africa, Malouf offers the audience a bleak reminder into the harsh reality of conflict with images of death and suffering as Priam and Somax pass “barrows of the dead” and “half a dozen ragged infants”, which serve to exemplify that while Priam’s daring journey and moment of forgiveness may be remembered, it will not continue to diffuse through his fellow Trojans due to their fated destruction. Ultimately, however, while Eastwood presents the preservation of change to be much easier than Malouf’s mere “provisional triumph”, both texts offer hope. In Invictus, there is hope that prejudice and entrenched racism can be effectively combatted. In Ransom, there is hope and an optimism that in the real world – not the constrained world of the myth – it is possible to enact meaningful change. Malouf and Eastwood therefore unite to suggest that resolutions to conflict do not have a universal formula, and sometimes, such a resolution lies beyond our tenure, though we should never cease to persevere.
True courage manifests itself within leaders who are able to persevere through dissidence and challenge the ingrained expectations of loyal supporters to enact meaningful change. Both Priam and Mandela are presented as the embodiment of challenging societal norms, each attempting to enact “something new and unimaginable” – efforts which are to be commended. Indeed, there is something admirable about a king who, for his “whole life” has been trapped by the rigidity of the “four-square towers” of Troy, but now desires to exit the courtly practice, and is willing to risk his wife and sons’ disapproval to divest himself of his “royal image”. Likewise, Mandela too subverts the expectations of his close supporters who have yet to move on from the deep racial cleft imposed by Apartheid through his decision to “preserve the name, emblem and colours of the Springboks”. Even when Brenda castigates Mandela for “risking the support of the party”, Mandela calmly responds by saying that the day he “is no longer prepared to do that”, he “is no longer fit to lead”. Such a bold statement reflects not only Mandela’s courage in standing up for his beliefs, but also a willingness to challenge their expectations and fight for meaningful change. Of course, while Priam must still be “defiant” in his novel decision, fundamentally, his family must “let him have his way” and “reconcile themselves” due to the autonomous power he wields, directly contrasting the power of the “unconditional love” which Mandela won from his fellow South Africans. In this moment, Mandela’s presentation of altruism also differs from Priam’s tenacity, which is inextricably linked with a certain selfishness to quell his own grief, thereby casting Mandela’s actions as not only more admirable, but also more difficult. However, both texts still value the courage to break free from “old ways of thinking” to be an indispensable trait and laud both leaders for their audacity to implement change.
The ability for leaders to inspire others, often by setting a proper example, is a truly remarkable characteristic which allows them to convince their followers of a cause. However, while both Malouf and Eastwood convey the necessity of leaders to lead righteously, Malouf exposes the consequences of incapacitated leaders instead of extoling the benefits of such a quality. Malouf’s metaphorical presentation of Achilles’ spirit reaching a “twilight kingdom” – a liminal space – exemplifies the debilitating nature of his psychological instability, which subsequently leads to his impaired ability to lead. Indeed, the fact that this is an “unknown region” alludes to his lack of inner harmony, thereby propelling him to act as a man “obeying some darker agency” creating a “barbaric spectacle”, with the words “darker” and “barbaric” emphasising the ruthless nature of his actions. Malouf illustrates the damaging effect of his immobility through his beloved Myrmidons, who “no longer know what authority they are under”, indicative of a paralysed leader so far detached from his men that even a semblance of authority is non-existent. Contrastingly, while Malouf accentuates the Myrmidon’s loss of conviction, Eastwood employs Pienaar, who had “always thought it best to lead by example” as the epitome of righteous leadership. Instead of capitulating to his indignant teammates who protest the decision to hold coaching clinics, Pienaar stands firm, overcoming their doubts with his axiom that “times change, and we need to change as well.” Hence, as they journey through the townships, their transformation is clear; the contradictory transitions in the mentality of the Myrmidons from “unconditional love” to uncertainty and the team’s transition from considering the clinic as “a bloody joke” to something which they are all engaging in with exuberance highlights the necessity for virtuous leadership. Then, interwoven with the inspiring music and departure of the bus amidst rapturous scenes of chanting, Eastwood’s adoption of Pienaar’s stance on leadership allows him to not only facilitate change within the Springboks, but also to help achieve the wider goal of unifying South Africa. Malouf and Eastwood, therefore, are unanimous in stressing the importance of leading by example to induce meaningful change.
Another paramount characteristic is a leader’s ability to forgive, resulting in not only rejuvenation and energy for themselves, but also allowing such acts of clemency to serve as the foundation of their follower’s morality. While Somax may not be a conventional leader like Mandela, Malouf employs him to lead Priam to a better understanding of himself through his story of taking Beauty’s “head in [his] arms and sobbing” to reveal the futility of engaging in the natural humanistic instinct of violence, thereby exposing Priam to the importance of compassion and forgiveness. Hence, Priam, struck by Somax’s recollections being “so personal…so present and so raw”, develops an understanding which propels him to not only drop before Achilles to beg “as a father…out of instant fellow-feeling”, but also to offer Achilles a “chance to break free of always being the hero”. Despite the unyielding nature of war, this poignant scene depicts the two coalescing in “perfect amity”, thus elucidating the power of forgiveness which is able to pacify the more sinister aspects of the human psyche. Just like the mutual equanimity developed in Ransom, Mandela’s speech to De Klerk’s cabinet on the note that “what is the past is the past” interwoven with his uncompromisingly merciful stance with no sense of vengeful retribution towards his former oppressors reinforces the necessity for leaders to forgive in order to “look to the future”. Indeed, Mandela’s rumination that “forgiveness liberates the soul” radiates the advantages of clemency within his governance and its ability “to remove fear”. Not too dissimilar to the Priam’s understanding of empathy which culminates in his triumph of repatriating Hector’s body, the Africans and Afrikaners are encouraged to recognise the true value of compassion, and therefore strive towards the unification of South Africa. Hence, although both Malouf and Eastwood emphasise the necessity of leaders to display forgiveness to help shape the beliefs of their followers, it is notable that in Invictus, leaders are presented as being more conventional in positions of authority, while Ransom reminds the audience that leadership is able to materialise even in ordinary people.
Often, the liberating experience of exploring “something that’s never been done before” can facilitate the broadening of perception and fresh understanding. Both Malouf and Eastwood stress the importance of engaging in the “unknown” suggesting that in doing so, we can escape from the confines of our rigid narratives. Initially, while Priam had traversed beyond his “royal sphere”, he was still defined by his apprehension to engage in the world around him. Indeed, the difficulty of this experience is exemplified when instead of taking hint at Somax’s extended hand to disembark the cart, he instinctively “continued to sit” with his “gaze fixed rigidly ahead”, with the lexicon of stasis and fixity being emblematic of his limited perception. Though, with Somax’s encouragement, Priam recognises his “error” and once again becomes an “obedient toddler”, the metaphor of infanthood signifying a newfound willingness to experience the “unknown”. Just as Priam is initially disconnected from nature, the Springbok’s rugby team is also reluctant to engage in the new experience of “conducting coaching clinics”. To them, the idea of “one team, one country” and their role as a team to instigate that is still challenging, but Pienaar stands firm, overcoming their doubts with his axiom that “times change, and we need to change as well.” Therefore, Eastwood accentuates the importance of their physical movements to change their mentality, with the close-up shot of their feet disembarking from the bus drawing parallels with Priam disembarking his cart. Hence, similar to Priam, who subsequently feels the “lightness”, signifying a relief from the “sleepless” and eviscerating pressures of being a king who must inhabit the role of being a “living map” for his people, the team’s mentality transitions from considering the clinic as “a bloody joke” to something which they are all engaging in with exuberant smiles. Thus, interwoven with the inspiring music and departure of the bus amidst rapturous scenes of chanting, Eastwood’s film mirrors Malouf’s affirmation that “something new and unimaginable” is beneficial and integral to striding forward.
Often, fulfilling objectives for the benefit of all can take a heavy toll on individuals, leading to familial sacrifices. Both Malouf and Eastwood present Priam and Mandela’s relationship with their family as an aspect which each forgoes to successfully execute their duty as leaders, with Priam having no inclination of his children’s childhoods, and Mandela unable to reconcile with his family. However, both texts differ in the value of this sacrifice, with Mandela’s actions being more altruistic, thereby invoking much more admiration for his actions compared with Priam’s preservation of tradition, only interacting with his children in the court. The dedication of Priam to his role is exemplified through his acknowledgement of having “no memory” of his children “wiping milk” from their mouths. Hence, Malouf signifies that before Priam was able to strip himself of his “kingly image”, he was shielded from the pleasures of being a father which now “satisfy…a new sort of emptiness” in him. Just like Priam had to sacrifice his involvement with his children, Mandela too forgoes his relationship with his family to pursue his wider agenda of unifying South Africa. From the outset of the film, Eastwood establishes the disconnect in Mandela’s family through the motif of his wife’s bracelet, which is initially broken. However, even when the bracelet is repaired, Zindzi, Mandela’s daughter, is still unwilling to absolve her bitterness towards her father, instead, preferring to admonish him in her refusal to return it to her mother. Here, Eastwood echoes Priam’s moment of realisation following his adoption of a “plain white robe”, suggesting that unless Mandela relinquishes his presidency, he will never truly unite with his family. Thus, both Malouf and Eastwood each highlight the personal toll that leadership entails, signifying that while their actions for the greater good at the loss of family may be admirable, time is something which can never be recovered.
The classical interpretation of a hero entails the glorification of an individual’s physical prowess and to remain detached from humanity. Yet, both Malouf and Eastwood unequivocally reject the perverse emphasis on such traditional ideals of masculinity, suggesting that our propensity to battle opposition through stoicism is reductive. Having grown up in the “rough”, “hardened” world of Ancient Greece, Achilles had been programmed to embrace the romanticised “hero’s death” and dutifully adopt the role of soldier. However, this restrictive stereotype of a warrior effectively incarcerates Achilles within a perception of his own strength, which prevents him from properly grieving, “never permitting himself to betray to others what he feels”. Therefore, he is left in a position of imbalance, plagued by guilt and sorrow as he is unable to look beyond the trite narrative of a soldier. Likewise, the Springbok rugby team is presented in similar psychological predicament, with dark, ominous lighting amidst their locker room accentuating the inescapable pessimism and despair at their seemingly endless losses. Mirroring Ransom, Eastwood quickly identifies the culprit behind the team’s degradation to be the pervasive atmosphere of toxic masculinity. The sport commentator’s cynical and inflammatory remark “if they can be called men at all” is very revealing; in rugby, the standard expectation is to demonstrate masculinity through physical strength and to appear “big”. Indeed, this ideology is prevalent amongst the team, as Chester dismissively “tries not to think” as anything beyond the physical realm is deemed to be a distraction that “interferes with his rugby”. Just as Achilles cannot “break the knot” of grief, neither can the team escape their lack of success. Hence, both texts indicate this restrictive philosophy typical of traditional heroism to be particularly destructive, as the would-be heroes are portrayed to be engulfed and suffocated by their narrow-minded, physical way of dealing with obstacles. Instead, both advocate for the spiritual and corporeal aspects depicted through the fluidity of Earth’s natural element “water”, accentuating the importance of allowing the expression of humane emotions.
Yet, the trauma and legacies of the past can imprison individuals within cycles of destruction, hindering any prospect of change. While both texts delve into our innate desire for vengeance, Eastwood offers the audience a more optimistic perspective compared to Malouf, who exacerbates the exceedingly difficult nature of breaking through such cycles through the near cyclical nature of his novel. Malouf presents the pyrrhic nature of vengeance through the rapid dissipation of Neoptolemus’ “rush of exhilaration” following his anti-climactic butchering of Priam. Indeed, his state of mind is “replaced by crushing disappointment”, and “animal sadness”, signifying that as cathartic as it may seem initially, revenge merely brings a sense of false comfort. Therefore, Neoptolemus’ heretical sacrifice of Priam at an altar not only further fuels his emotional demise, but it will forever be “a raw shame…till his last breath”. However, unlike Neoptolemus who capitulates to his desire for revenge, Mandela’s axioms of “forgiveness” and “reconciliation” radiate forth through his confrontation with thee National Sports Council. Instead of fuelling their desire for revenge, he implores the assembled Africans, who have yet to move on from the deep racial cleft imposed by Apartheid, that “now is not the time to celebrate petty revenge”, instead advocating for a peaceful and conciliatory resolution to the race war. Here, the decision of the Africans to “eliminate” the Springboks directly echoes the impetuous actions of Neoptolemus who exacts revenge for momentary satisfaction, thereby accentuating the danger and volatility of grief. Although, while Mandela’s comments are met with widespread consternation, fortunately for South Africa, he does succeed in reinstating the Springboks. Thus, Eastwood presents the audience with a sliver of hope that it is possible to alter our intrinsic tendencies to dwell on the past. Hence, Malouf’s sinister implication mirrors the message Eastwood urges his audience to avoid: to walk the road of retribution, will only lead to further interminable turmoil. People, therefore, should resist the temptation to succumb to their vengeful desires no matter how difficult such a decision may initially seem.
Often, the most potent and effective stories are those which have not been glorified, but rather, are exposed in their full reality. Both texts diverge through the recollection of Priam and Mandela’s respective backstories, in which, only Mandela’s candid story is able to contribute to its listeners. Indeed, Priam’s backstory is far from the aggrandised “soul hanging” and “heart” touching story that every child recognises. When stripped of its heroic refinery, Priam instead reveals the destitute nature of his story, characterising himself to be surrounded by “rats, mice and…a rabble of filthy, lice ridden brats”. While the story may have had a deep emotion impact upon Priam, as illustrated through Malouf’s repetition of the “lack” which he has carried with himself, tragically, this is an experience which the audience cannot share due to its concealment. Contrastingly, while Malouf presents the prevalence of Priam’s glorified story, Eastwood exposes a genuine recollection of Mandela’s dire experience, where he was forced to endure 9000 days in “a tiny cell” through the use of imaginative interpolation so that the audience could explore the hardship endured by Mandela. In doing so, Pienaar, through the haunting extreme close-up of Mandela’s grim expression revealing his “unconquerable soul” and a fierce desire to keep his “head bloody yet unbow’d”, conveys his own desire to adopt such a mentality. In this moment, even though Priam recounts a true account of his story, Hecuba, with the glorified version of his story ingrained within her mind, prefers to reject such an account, merely claiming that “these things are so ugly”, ultimately leaving her ignorant and incapable of reaping the benefits revealed by Pienaar, who became stronger for them. Therefore, both texts stress the importance of recounting stories truthfully, with Malouf presenting the limitations of clinging to fallacious glorified narratives, thereby allowing their audiences to learn from the hardships of others.