“Let me lead you now”: The Challenges and Triumphs of Leadership in ‘Ransom’ and ‘Invictus’

Clint Eastwood’s Invictus and David Malouf’s Ransom both emphasise the necessity of strong leadership, especially as the societies depicted in both texts are on edge: Troy nearing its inevitable destruction, whereas South Africa is struggling past its dubious beginnings. The two texts discover the hardships of leading by exemplifying the characteristic in four major leaders. Eastwood and Malouf depict two primary leaders, Mandela and Priam, that have inherited a volatile administration, as aforementioned; the two secondary leaders, François and Achilles, symbolise a different volatility – one that is embodied by stagnation and a persistent conservatism that yielded no results. Both authors ingrain an appeal to nature, one’s own volition and humanism in their two characters – in Priam, this is a learnt trait; in Mandela, this is an inherent virtue. The prominence of leadership within both works of literature is testified by the ultimate victory achieved by the four leaders.

The state of South Africa, once Mandela managed power, was one of severe division and polarisation. The atmosphere had retained the stench of apartheid and racial segregation – the opening shot was cleverly utilised by Eastwood to symbolise this disunity through the juxtaposition of wealthy Afrikaners playing rugby on a well-manicured field, to the poor Africans playing soccer on a barren one. In the following scene, Mandela notices the tensions between his White and Black staff; with some Afrikaners already packing their belongings in the many cardboard boxes spread across the rooms ready to leave, due to a false sense of foreboding imbued in them regarding the new administration. Mandela immediately calls for an ad hoc meeting to deliver an impromptu speech where he asserts ‘the past is the past’ alleviating the fears most of the whites had clenched onto. Priam, however, doesn’t need to consolidate power; rather, he needs to preserve his kingdom that’s been ‘ravaged and threatened with extinction’. After having sent his fearsome son and fighter, Hector, to the battlefield and losing him to Achilles – his entire court is paralysed in their mourning, as most were either friends or relatives of the deceased, but Priam was innately paralysed as he belonged to the ‘royal sphere’ and therefore had a ‘royal image’ to maintain. The traditionalism of the imperials of Troy rendered the King as a mere figurehead and all nobles as placeholders, actors for a play larger than themselves – an enjoyment for the Gods. Priam’s unstable monarchy came because of his court’s grief and consequently, their inaction, whereas Mandela’s battle was against the inherent hatred and prejudice of the people involved – however, a similar leadership quality is observed – Priam also calls an ad hoc meeting to retrieve his son’s body and relax the court’s sorrow.

Ransom and Invictus also provide the perspective of other leaders, Achilles and François; these two leaders demonstrate different sets of trials and tribulations, as well as victories, in their leadership. Achilles is the exact opposite of his counterpart, Priam, he and his Myrmidons embody an ‘animal spirit’ that has them unruly, brutish and almost feral-like – but Achilles pushes it further and embraces an oculist’s ‘darkness’. This transcendent being pulls Achilles into pits of depravity, driving him to torture and maim a lifeless body; Achilles, to alleviate his guilt-ridden conscience, asserts it’s his grief for his lost brother Patroclus that Hector’s body must be tarnished and degraded. François mirrors some of the qualities of Achilles – being the captain of the failing Springboks, he’s developed a sorrow for his inability to lead; which is also reminiscent of Achilles failure to guard his brother against an untimely death. François’s uphill battle, however, isn’t with one specific opponent; rather with many – and so he toasts to defeat, drinking a bitter beer; to remind his men of its harshness and disincentivising ever tasting it again. And to worsen the situation of the Springboks, calls for the removal of François as he ‘does not deserve to be in gold and green’ are broadcast nationally – François realises his powerlessness, and finds himself in a depth akin to Achilles’s.

These leaders both persevere despite the stacking of odds against them and their deteriorating situations – a triumph in of itself – and therefore become keen on wanting change, ‘something new’ in Achilles case and a ‘need [for] inspiration’ in François’s. This creates an open-mindedness in both characters, Achilles is seen ‘breaking bread’ and feasting with Priam – his mortal enemy – whereas François is invited by Mandela for tea and the promise of victory in the upcoming World Cup. Both meetings end well – Achilles signs a twelve-day armistice in respect of Priam, and the Springboks won their rugby matches as well as the love 42 million of South Africans. This sudden change of heart isn’t suddenly embedded in Priam and Mandela, rather, they develop their inspirational je ne sais quoi through a force that transcends themselves. In Ransom, Priam is inspired by the Goddess Iris that introduces to him the notion of chance; something he’d previously considered blasphemous. This paves the course for Priam that leads to his forgiveness of Achilles, retrieval of his son’s lost body and the aforementioned bread-breaking with his arch-enemy. Mandela similarly derives inspiration in the direst of his times; a poem he read while in solitary confinement helped him maintain his grit and fortified his mental fortitude. After having survived his own trials, Mandela echoes the very same things in his meeting with François as Iris had said to Priam.

In both narratives inspiration acts as a driving force to allow one to ‘exceed [their] own expectations’; in Ransom, Priam realises a window from wherein he can defeat the persisting stagnation that has plagued Troy and its Imperials; in Invictus, it strengthens Mandela to endure ’30 years in a tiny cell, and come out ready to forgive the people who put him [there]’. The divine inspiration in Ransom tears down all the forms of conservativism that afflicted the ‘royal sphere’; Priam’s journey with Somax following the visions he’d received reconnected him with all the intricacies and minutiae of daily life – he reflects on Somax’s life and deems it more vibrant and vivid than his, despite the marginal difference between their social standing. Priam then appraises the experiences of his life – he had no connection to his children, not able to even recount how many he’s had – and rationalises it’s because of his ‘fixed nature’. Mandela, however, had always espoused this leadership quality; being gregarious and eloquent provided him greatly in social endeavours – François recalls that ‘[Mandela] is unlike anyone [he has] ever seen’ – this affableness had him shoulder the burden of forty-two million South Africans and Afrikaners.

Ultimately, the two stories end on an optimistic note; a bright sun rises on Troy and a cheering crowd chants the Springboks victory. The consequence of the four leaders is greatly felt in the two texts – each of whom faces considerable challenges that required unprecedented solutions. These characters didn’t bring about the solutions completely alone; they relied heavily on the people surrounding them – a demonstration of their willingness to espouse new ideas and recreate their world-view after considering new developments. While the narrative does predict a grim future for Troy, Priam and Achilles; its comment on the strength of leadership is a demonstrably positive one.

The power of storytelling in Ransom and Invictus

David Malouf’s Ransom and Clint Eastwood’s Invictus signify the powerful force of storytelling through the portrayal of their characters. In his adaptation of Homer’s Illiad, Malouf and Eastwood concede that stories can be manipulated, alluding to their reformed retelling of true events. Furthermore, both authors champion the compelling force of storytelling in reconciling polarised individuals. However, where Eastwood portrays a linear progression of events, the contrasting storytelling technique in Ransom, alludes to broader beliefs about chance and fate. Predicated upon the crises of the past, Eastwood and Malouf highlight that stories can be distorted by the storyteller. Through the lens of Post-Apartheid South Africa, Eastwood adopts a utopic portrayal of Mandela and Pienaar, while Malouf depicts a more cynical perspective of human disposition in the midst of the Trojan war.

In Invictus, Eastwood maintains an idyllic vision of the human desire to unify polarised individuals, and thus quells the innate tendency to gain reprisal. The character of Pienaar functions as a vehicle to Mandela’s visionary policies which epitomise his sentiment that ‘revenge is futile,’ while the inability to ‘forgive’ only reinforces the ‘cycle of fear’ which plagues post-Apartheid South Africa. To heighten this notion, Eastwood has primarily emphasised upon the positive aspects of their characters and their propitious influence on society. This is corroborated in the fact that Eastwood has not extensively explored any negative traits of either character in detail, although he has portrayed them as human, acknowledging Pienaar’s upbringing in a racist white household and Mandela’s complications with his family. These obscure, subtle suggestions are cautiously illustrated when Mandela exclaims that akin to his father he also wishes to engage in ‘polygamy,’ while Pienaar’s father’s response to Mandela’s presidency is ‘I never thought I’d see the day.’ However, through the use of an omniscient narrator, Eastwood purports the impression that the narration is objective, while consciously mitigating their weaker attributes. This is foregrounded in the predominant employment of tilt-up shots in the portrayal of Mandela, which endorses the notion that he is a superior, magnanimous luminary in the ‘New south Africa.’ In addition, Pienaar is similarly primarily shot in a close-up angle, which conveys his idle, impersonal character. Thus, the audience cultivates the perception that he is merely a victim of circumstance, which, in essence, is a drastic over-simplification of the role white minorities played in the South African community. Therefore, Eastwood highlights that characters can be manipulated through direction and camera techniques.

Similarly, as Eastwood manipulates the portrayal of characters through his amenable direction, Malouf accentuates the flaws of seemingly immaculate individuals. Evidently, Malouf establishes a new meaning to the Illiad for modern readers, and ‘like most storytellers, [is a] stealer of other men’s tales,’ thus suggesting that although stories can be conveyed, sometimes its meaning can be lost or modified. It is inferred that Malouf himself is alluding to the fact that he has, in a sense, stolen Homer’s identity in retelling the Iliad because he discarded the focus on the grandeur of a typical warrior’s adventure, while honing in on the tumultuous psyche in a ‘hero’s’ world. This drastically contradicts the gallant connotations typically associated with this title. Ultimately, he presents a more incredulous perspective of human character. For instance, Achilles deviates from the virtuous and forgiving character of Mandela, and instead indulges in archaic acts of vengeance, which sees his volatile grief inhibit his capacity to enact forgiveness. Following Hector’s heretical slaughtering of Patroclus, Achilles ‘mauls’ Hector’s body ‘stripped from tendon to tendon.’ Personifying Malouf’s interpretation of the human instinct to seek revenge, Achilles embodies the archetype, villainous disposition, which drastically contrasts the image of an exalted ‘warrior.’ Thus, although Achilles is trapped within a paradigm of insatiable retribution, Eastwood’s Mandela and Pienaar endorse a nation who take ‘their knives and guns and throw them into the sea.’ Furthermore, the artificial nature of the short-lived truce between Achilles and Priam distinguishes itself from the reconciliation achieved between the black and white South Africans which is of genuine national unity. Hence, through storytelling, Eastwood adheres to a vision of progress that overcomes the need for revenge, where Malouf highlights the limitations to human reconciliation.

The power of storytelling is highlighted in its ability to unite characters. This is exemplified through Somax’s narration to Priam, which enables him to venture out into the world of ‘fatherhood.’ Through the illustration of Somax, Malouf stresses upon the significance of the ‘ordinary man’ in a hero’s world; a concept that is markedly excluded from Homer’s Illiad. Both characters resonate on their past experiences, as their identities have been unwillingly distorted. This is corroborated as Priam portrays his kingship as an ‘awful responsibility’ while Somax receives his novel identity as Idaeus with a ‘silent, sullen affront.’ However, they soon establish an affinity on the grounds of their fatherhood, as Somax’s stories about his own familial relationships emancipates Priam from his constraining role as ‘the living map’ of Troy, and impels retrospection on his adequacy ‘as a father.’ This is illustrated when sharing the story of his son’s death, Somax sniffles, an ‘odd habit’ according to Priam. The use of ‘odd habit’ to describe Somax’s sadness demonstrates how Priam has never truly grieved the loss of his sons, but only the loss of a noble relationship between king and prince. Later on, Somax once again ‘sniffles’ and ‘rubs his nose’ at the thought of the ending to their journey. Similarly, Priam makes ‘small sounds’, ostensibly crying as well. The transformation of Priam from someone who failed to empathize with Somax’s tears at the beginning of the journey to a man filled with emotions demonstrates that Priam undergoes both a physical and emotional journey where he undergoes self-development and appreciation of the world around him, symbolically epitomized in his act of ‘ransom.’ Furthermore, Priam’s anecdotes act as a powerful persuasion to Hecuba which ameliorates her apprehension of the notion of ‘freewill,’ that is believed to be iconoclastic. This is portrayed when Priam relates his story of being ‘ransomed’ to highlight the volatility of his role as the ‘ceremonial figurehead.’ This transformation from an ‘indistinguishable’ man to a ‘lord of pleasures’ is a testament to the imperative role chance plays in one’s life. Thus, Priam is empowered to engage in a similar course of action to likewise ‘ransom and restore’ Hector’s body.

Consequently, as Priam’s narration of his life is a living proof of the oscillating nature of chance, Hecuba is inclined to be more accepting of a concept that she otherwise believed to be ‘blasphemous’ due to the powerful evocations of storytelling. Likewise, akin to Somax’s effect on Priam, Mandela’s psychological turmoil in incarceration is echoed through the Invictus poem, and hence, also inspires Pienaar to defy his pre-ordained fate. Mandela experienced symbolic confines due to the racial discord that renders the black natives powerless, while also being physically imprisoned which prevented him from taking action against the subjugation. However, he still pervaded unprecedented progress in South Africa. Upon hearing of his flawed past, Pienaar is similarly empowered to rise beyond his defeat, and defy the odds that the Springboks face. This is typified in the close-up shot of Pienaar who envisions Nelson Mandela in prison doing things like sitting at his bed and outside breaking rocks. Here, Pienaar is seen grasping the metal bars that isolate him and Mandela, with an eye-level shot that evokes an intimate connection with the audience. However, once the team are outside Francois again has a vision of Nelson smashing up a boulder as part of his punishment, this time though, Nelson makes eye contact with him. This is symbolic of the dissolution of the virtual barriers that divide them, and suggests that Pienaar finally accedes to the alliance with Mandela on the ‘road to reconciliation.’ This scene is accompanied by a voice-over of Henley’s poem ‘Invictus’ and the non-diegetic sound track ‘9000 days’ in order to magnify this turning point in the film.

Additionally, the lasting impact of this scene is augmented at the pinnacle of the final game, when Pienaar finds solace and strength in the phrase, ‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.’ As alluded to in Henley’s poem, Pienaar realizes the importance of ‘mastering’ his ‘fate’ in the face of adversity. Evidently, through storytelling, the protagonists form connections, and are inspired to pursue development. Moreover, Eastwood portrays a linear narration of events, while Malouf opts for a non-sequential format of storytelling, which is broadly indicative of their nuanced beliefs on chance and destiny. Invictus has a definite ending because the final events give the audience closure that the pursuit has been accomplished – South Africa have won the World Cup and Nelson Mandela has united the Republic of South Africa. This sequential succession of events has been tactfully employed by Eastwood to enable the audience to fully comprehend the fruition of Mandela’s ambitions in all its ‘splendour.’ This is illustrated in the juxtaposition of the first and final scene. The initial scene portrays a stark contrast between the Afrikaners and the black natives, with the mise-en-scene alluding to the inequality between both sectors to the extent that the natives refuse to play rugby as it ‘still represents apartheid.’ However, these divides then dissipate in the final scene. Here, the bird’s eye camera angle portrays unity as the audience are seen waving the new flag, as well as, demonstrates equality by positioning everyone on the same standing. This is further augmented by the little boy, Sipho, and the Afrikaner cops who dance together in celebration following the defeat, which distinguishes from their earlier, separated stance, dissolving all barriers that divide them. Therefore, the sequential progression of events their sole reliance on the present in influencing the future, while the past is just a source of grievance. Conversely, Ransom resolves on a less conclusive note, and there are constant references to the past and future scenes in the present. This is representative of their constraining belief that allows their past and future dictate their present lives, whereas, Invictus is solely is concerned with capitulating oneself from the confines of the past.

This is corroborated in Priam’s ostensible defiance of the Trojan belief of destiny, yet he still submits to every aspect of Iris’ divinations to the extent that the ‘carter’ must resemble ‘so completely the figure in [his] dream.’ This is further exemplified when Priam negotiates with Achilles, which provokes a vision that depicts his son Neoptolemus killing Priam in retribution for Achilles’s own death in the future. It is this vision that enables Achilles to accept Priam’s pleadings so readily. Thus, the fleeting power of Gods’ over their destinies requires the two characters to metaphorically cease the inevitable progression of fate, as reflected in the truce between the Greeks and the Trojans to mourn for the dead before the ultimate destiny is fulfilled. Consequently, Malouf is essentially implying that fate and free will are not mutually inclusive, and while the opportunity for freewill exists, ultimately, destiny will always prevail. Thus, it is inferred that Priam and Achilles supposed momentary rebellion against destiny is essentially obsolete and disingenuous, while the national unity achieved in Invictus has arguably stipulated palpable, persisting reconciliation. Consequently, the mere storytelling technique of either text is a broader representation of their beliefs on chance and fate.

In conclusion, in Ransom and Invictus, storytelling plays an extensive role in the way their texts are portrayed. This is evident in the characters who establish an emotional connection with each other and unite on the grounds of common experience. Furthermore, Malouf and Eastwood have contrasting techniques of storytelling, which result in different interpretations to their literary allusions.