Sometimes, reading about things like ‘Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison’, and his wife ‘spent 16 months in solitary confinement’ just doesn’t quite paint the picture, until you see it represented visually.
In the film, you see Mandela aging in prison, and getting to see his daughter only when she turns 13–when the last time he saw her was as a 2 year old. They show how he isn’t allowed to touch his own family; how he is only allowed to send his daughters TWO letters a YEAR; how letters coming from his wife are cut out in places where they think it is too political, and how he isn’t allowed to bury his son.
The movie shows how each of the young ANC members who are charged with “conspiracy” and “attempted sabotage” refuse an appeal, knowing that if they are found guilty, it would likely end in a death sentence.This is where Mandela gave his famous speech, looking at the judge straight in the eye:
“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” –Nelson Mandela, 1964
In many ways, whatever fruits their lives were able to bear afterward, the sentence that the men were given was worse than immediate death. The film shows how brutally they were all treated in jail, and how slowly, as racial attitudes changed in South Africa, the new jailers were progressively more civil to them, and gave them more amenities as the decades wore on.
But the point that was driven home for me while watching this movie was a visual image of how much they all really suffered; and how despite all this suffering, they still did what they thought was right for South Africa–which was to not act on their anger, and forgive.
It’s amazing, when you are lucky to grow up around peace; around peaceful people, in peaceful settings–to see what the people before us had to sacrifice in order to give us this gift.
I don’t think I’ll say ‘the movie is better than the book’, but I’m surprised, for the first time, to say that the movie shows this story in a way that a book is inherently limited. I know the history, for the most part, but it is one thing to know facts, and another thing to see them played out in front of you. The whole time I was watching it, I kept thinking: “I can’t believe this actually happened. I can’t believe these are real people.”
You should see it at least once.