Invictus Themes


Forgiveness is a central theme in the film, embodied most fully by Nelson Mandela. After being released from a 27-year prison sentence, Mandela has an impressive ability to forgive those who have wronged him. He believes in the importance of compassion and believes that the key to unifying his divided nation is through the power of forgiveness. His intensive practice of forgiveness is met with resistance by many in his circles, who see his efforts as antithetical to political critique and accountability, but he believes that the strongest way to fight the oppressor is by forgiving them. In his eyes, forgiveness is disarming, unexpected, and contributes to progress.


Unity is another theme of the film. Mandela's chief aim as the first black president of South Africa is to unify its people. He sees the divisions of race that took place during apartheid and wants to find a way to bridge these divides and unify the people. He sees rugby as the primary way to unify the people of the nation, and believes that if he can unify the country around the sport, he can help them to unify politically. He believes that if he can make white and black South Africans unite around rugby, he can create a broader solidarity among them. While many South Africans believe that this division between the races is an important legacy within the nation, with Afrikaners believing that black South Africans are not to be trusted, and black South Africans feeling the same way about the Afrikaners, Mandela believes that if everyone shows compassion for one another, they can achieve unity, which will galvanize the nation and bring equality between the races after years of apartheid.


The process of healing is a major theme of this film. We watch as great tensions mount which hold the threat of violence after Mandela becomes the first black President of South Africa. Mandela seeks to unify South Africa and he knows he cannot do that by furthering the hatred and violence that was perpetrated upon him during his life as a free man and the 27 years he was imprisoned. He sees his mission as president as healing the nation. Healing is long and slow, but he is committed to the project.

We also see the project of healing in Mandela's relationship with his own family members. He is estranged from his wife, and his daughter does not believe in his efforts to forgive those who oppressed him. Interestingly enough, healing his family is more difficult for Mandela than healing a divided nation.


Mandela chooses the sport of rugby as the main area in which he will unify the divided nation. He knows that sports are equalizing and that people rally around sports. His prophecy that rugby will be a good way to unite his country comes true as the Springboks team gets better and better, and the South Africans begin to root more passionately for their rugby team.

Resilience and Strength

The poem from which the film takes its title is a Victorian poem by William Ernest Henley, which is a poem about keeping hope and faith even in dark or difficult times. Mandela tells Francois that the message of the poem gave him hope while he was imprisoned, and gives Francois a handwritten copy of the poem to motivate him as captain of the Springboks. The poem is about garnering inner strength to overcome obstacles and exceed one's own expectations. Thus, a central theme of the film is maintaining courage and resilience in difficult times.


The only area of his life that Mandela has not mastered is his family relationships. When one of his bodyguards mistakenly asks Mandela about his family, Mandela becomes withdrawn, and we soon learn that he has a strained relationship with his family, who resent him after his years of political resistance, and see his campaign of forgiveness and compassion as foolish. Because he does not have the support and love of his actual family, Mandela sees his country as his family, and feels even more responsibility for them. He also creates a familial network within his staff. Additionally, the Springboks team is a kind of family.


Mandela very much identifies as a leader, and thinks very carefully about what it means to be a good and ethical leader. He sees sound leadership as essential to the unity and health of the nation he leads, and takes his role very seriously. When he meets with Francois in his office, he asks the captain what he does to lead his teammates, and Francois leaves the meeting with a renewed commitment with his obligation to motivate and lead his peers.