Monday, December 30, 2013

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoSuntimes (3 Stars) (2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing

Cape Times (K. Aftab) review  coverage
Johannesburg Mail & Guardian (S. De Waal) review  coverage
The Sowetan (SAPA) review  coverage

The Nairobi Standard  review  coverage
The Jamaica Gleaner  coverage
The Times of India  coverage
The Guardian (U.K.) (H. Barnes) review

CNS/USCCB (J. McCarthy) review
ChicagoSunTimes (R. Roeper) review (S. Abrams) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom [2013] (directed by Justin Chadwick, screenplay by William Nicholson, based on South African freedom fighter / South Africa's 1st post-Apartheid President Nelson Mandela's own autobiography by the same name) is one of several momentous biopics released this year.  Others reviewed here include Jobs [2013] and Walesa: Man of Hope [2013].

As I've written in my reviews of the other two biopics, these are films that are often hard to difficult to make honestly.  Often films made about "Great Leaders" become either fawning works of adulation or hatchet jobs depending on persuasions of the film-makers regarding their subjects.  (And if one is honest, reviews of such films depend largely on the persuasions of the reviewers regarding the persons in question as well ;-).  Still, if a "Great Leader" biopic is done right, the viewer is given an insight into _why_ the particular Leader proved "Great"/truly Great.  I don't want to either repeat or add to the reviews that I wrote about the other two "great" / great men about whom significant and often insightful biopics were made this year.  Instead I wish to refer readers to the reviews that I wrote of those two films and continue here with consideration of the current film.

So how does the current biopic on Nelson Mandela (with Idris Elba playing the title role) fare?  Well, as I already noted above and in my previous reviews, a credible "Great Leader" biopic can no longer portray said GL as simply "a living saint."  An added twist to the portrayal of Nelson Mandela here is that the source material is his own autobiography.  So there is a certain (and appropriate) Confessional (as in St. Augustine's Confessions) quality to the presentation of Mandela's life here:

He's portrayed early in life as a womanizer, as being at minimum emotionally abusive to his first wife Evelyn Mase-Mandela (played in the film by Terry Pheto) and in any case an adulterer to her, and finally rather dismissive (at least at this stage of his life) of Christian religion/morality (Note here that in addition to having to deal with the reality that Christian religion was often being used by whites of the time to justify somehow their views of "white superiority" (both tragic and stupid since neither Jesus nor any of his Apostles nor the overwhelming majority of his early disciples were white...) Evelyn herself was apparently a Jehovah's Witness, that is, a member of a Protestant sect that is rarely particularly easy to reason with...). 

We are also presented with Mandela's own reasoning (rather than that of propagandists on either side) of why in the aftermath of the 1960 Sharpesville Massacre, as leader of the African National Congress already for some time, he made the momentous if ever controversial decision to set-aside the ANC's previous non-violent tactics and instead embrace a strategy that included a campaign of sabotage to bring pressure on the South African apartheid-era government to accede to the ANC's consistent demand for a nonracial South Africa.  Eventually, of course, Mandela was captured.  Since he had been leading a campaign that now included violence against the State he was convicted of Treason against said State (he and the other ANC  leaders arrested, of course, rejected the authority of a State that denied full-citizenship to the vast majority of its people...) and sentenced to life imprisonment.  Thus Mandela spent the next 18 years (from 1964 to 1982 at South Africa's notorious Robben Island prison.

The film portrays well the personal sufferings that such a lengthy stay in prison entailed.  During his time on Robben Island, his mother and his oldest son died (the latter in a car accident), and was unable to see his two young daughters whom he had with his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (played by Naomie Harris) until they were 16.  His youngest daughter was 3 when he was arrested ... During this time, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a college educated social worker when they first met, herself was arrested, jailed and radicalized against the Apartheid state.

Finally, viewers are given Nelson Mandela's version of events as to why after his final release in 1990 from South African state custody he and his wife during the whole of his imprisonment parted ways:  Winnie had simply become far more radical in her opposition to the white-dominated Apartheid state than he was.  In a sense, Nelson Mandela was given a "devil's choice" with regard to Winnie (and others like her):  He could have chosen to stand by her (and others) _who had stood by him_ while he was in prison even at the cost of _enormous suffering_ on their part (many were killed, many lost loved ones), or FOR THE SAKE OF THE CAUSE for which ALL OF THEM had suffered (for an end to Apartheid), he could make peace with the regime which had oppressed them all.

Basically Nelson's, Winnie's et al's, dilemma became the classic one of Forgiveness.  How can one forgive those who've TRULY HURT YOU, and NOT JUST YOU but ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE, LOVED ONES, AROUND YOU?  Yet it was clear from the film / Mandela's own autobiography that he came to the conclusion that there was NO OTHER WAY FORWARD OTHER THAN FORGIVENESS. In a televised speech near the end of the film, Nelson Mandela is portrayed as telling his supporters that there was simply no other way forward telling his followers that "We can not win a war, but we CAN win an election."  In a sense, NO ONE WOULD WIN with further conflict, but EVERYONE WOULD win with a just peace.

And so it was.  The Whites proved happy to be able to relinquish power PEACEFULLY after convinced that they were not going to be lynched once they did.  And South Africa, with all its problems since, has lived _happily ever after_ ever since.

I noted that the dilemma faced by the Mandelas and the ANC movement as a whole was the classic one of Forgiveness, because while perhaps initially difficult to grasp, Forgiveness has always been seen in the Christian faith as being for the benefit/well-being of all concerned - as much for the one doing the forgiving as the one being forgiven.  Perhaps the situation in South Africa was so stark that the wisdom of forgiving one's enemies was more clearly seen than in more mundane cases.  Nevertheless, Nelson Mandela was certainly right when he came to the conclusion, perhaps during his time in prison, that it's actually easier to Love than to Hate.  For carrying Hate / Resentment becomes an enormous burden.

As such, of all the recent "Great Leader" films that were made, this one about Nelson Mandela becomes the easiest for us regular folks to apply.  For we all have people that we need to make peace with / forgive.

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