Thinking about Nelson Mandela and all the tribulations he has endured, the triumphs he has achieved, he sometimes seems superhuman. That is, until you realize that everything he has achieved comes from his relating to everyone on a personal level. In the movie (and presumably in life), he takes a genuine, personal interest in everyone he meets; in so doing, he affirms their humanity and also their equality with him. He makes it clear that he is no higher than anyone else, but neither is he any lower. The film also does a good job of bringing to light his human frailties (if not his flaws). His lifelong mission to bring equality to South Africa estranged him from his family, and the pain that this caused him is achingly palpable in the movie.
As fascinating as Nelson Mandela is, however, I wish that there was more room within the scope of the movie to examine the life and background of Francois Pienaar and find out why exactly he was so receptive to Mandela's ideas, or even to meeting with him in the first place. We make the brief acquaintance of Pienaar's father, who is vocally and unrelentingly critical of Mandela and his government. We soon see that Francois' views differ from those of his father, but we don't necessarily know why. I would like to get a clearer idea of what experiences initially started opening Pienaar's eyes and seeing the world differently from the way that his father saw it. I also found it questionable that Pienaar didn't have more conflict with his family over his relationship with Nelson Mandela. As vocal as Pienaar's father is about criticizing Mandela, he's virtually speechless when he finds out that his son has been invited to tea with him. I'm not sure I find that believable, although I of course was not there.
The film is many things, probably something different to everyone who sees it. To me, it is a story about a friendship between two remarkable, fascinating characters made all the more fascinating by the fact that they are actual, living human beings. Actually, I feel much the same way about The King's Speech except that, of course, in that case the characters are no longer living, but they were real people. It's always refreshing to see a movie about male friendship that doesn't involve capers or hijinks, and I count myself lucky that I got to see two last week.
The other movie I watched on DVD last week was Public Enemies. I knew going into it that it was probably ill-advised because I don't like violence in movies and expected that a movie about armed bank robbers would involve a lot of violence, and indeed it was so. I watched the movie mostly because of Johnny Depp, who has a knack for playing the charming rogue and was brilliant as always as the oddly charismatic John Dillinger. However, I found Christian Bale's character of Melvin Purvis, the federal agent in charge of catching Dillinger, to be far more compelling. Purvis was an agent with the Bureau of Investigation, forerunner to the modern FBI, commanded by the infamous J. Edgar Hoover, depicted in this movie as a Captain Ahab-esque character intent on capturing Dillinger and other bank robbers by any means necessary (even means that may not have been strictly legal or ethical). Purvis' internal conflict between his duty to Hoover and his own personal code of ethics is one that I can relate to and therefore invest in. With its focus on Dillinger, the movie doesn't give Christian Bale a lot to do, but what he does do is subtly brilliant and I would have much preferred to see a movie about his character.