The power of storytelling in Ransom and Invictus

March 31, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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