So, apparently I should keep my mouth shut. I now must take back everything hateful I’ve ever said about rugby and rugby players. OK, not everything, but most everything anyway.

I watched Invictus finally last night, on an illegal DVD that kept flashing, “You are personally responsible for this disc and its content”. I absolutely loved it– the movie, not the possible legal issues that accompany pirated DVDs.

I think if I had watched it back home I still would have loved it because I am sucker for underdog/politically and culturally significant sports movies and because it took place in SA and because of Matt Damon and various other reasons.

But I wouldn’t have “gotten it” the same way or with the same depth as I did yesterday. I feel like I really understood the feelings, sentiments, culture, and mannerisms that were in the film. Of course, not 100%– I am not South African by any means. Yet I “got it” far more than that would have been possible without my time here. I could understand the frustration and the distrust of both sides, Afrikaner and Black, because I have seen and experienced it almost everyday, whether it occurs subtly or not.

More than that, I actually get rugby. I finally looked up all the rules on Wikipedia and then actually paid attention to the gym television broadcasting rugby. It’s not a bad game. Far more brutal, rough, and aggressive than American football and less sophisticated in many ways. Not in a bad way, mind you. Just easier to understand and follow for the first-time viewer, which is a plus in my book.

But besides the basic mechanics, I understood its appeal and its significance. It’s pure domination over another team and winning produces very simple but powerful satisfaction. It’s fun to watch one team very struggle to beat another, in the very physical sense.

Plus the cultural significance of rugby, and cricket for that matter, in former British colonies is astounding and amazing. It’s a means of connecting the Commonwealth with the UK and maintaining a common culture of sport. Also it’s  a means for competing on equal footing against it, to best the former HQ of one the world’s largest empires and a way to prove the success of such colonies after their break away. The child surpassing the parent, in a sense.

But back to the film. Invictus was so much more for me in the very basic sense that I recognized pretty much every location in the film. I’ve been to the Union buildings. In the scene of the plane flying into Cape Town, I knew immediately which mountain was Table Mountain. Even the small things, like recognizing the brands of SA beer the team was drinking, or knowing what all the companies supporting the Springboks were, or even what the heck springboks are, were a small enjoyments. Or that when the team went into the township to do a teaching clinic- the township’s appearance wasn’t something alien (not a District 9 joke I swear) or far away 3rd world. I go there every week.


Yet, with that familiarity, I recognized the inconsistencies or faults of the film. The townships are not just miles of slums and shacks. There are many many nice houses in whole sections of the townships, sometimes nicer than most I see back home. Or that Morgan Freeman’s accent wasn’t quite spot on. Damon’s was better, surprisingly.

It’s rewarding, in a way, to really “get” the film. A confirmation that I am settling in, despite the homesickness, and becoming a resident of South Africa, not just an exchange student.

I am not saying that I am turning into a South African or becoming a die-hard Pretoria Blue Bulls rugby fan. Or that I am going to come back criticizing everything back home that isn’t South Africa like. I mean, I watched a DVD today in Cultural History about traditional Afrikaner music and my ears hurt after. It was like honky-tonk emo music, literally. And I still cannot believe the inefficiency of the supermarket tills here or the crossing-the-road-business either. But I feel more and more at home here and things make more sense, which is nice.

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