It appears that In Contention‘s Kris Tapley has credibly confirmed that the title of Clint Eastwood‘s forthcoming South African rugby-and-racism drama (formerly known as The Human Factor or Playing The Enemy) is Invictus — a Latin translation of invincible. The source is William Earnest Henley‘s 1875 poem “Invictus.”

I’ve been in the tank for “Invictus” since my teenage years because of the phrase “bloody but unbowed,” which Henley coined for the poem. Ditto “I am the master of my fate” (used ironically by Claude Rains‘ cynical gendarme in Casablanca) and “I am the captain of my soul.”

Former South African president Nelson Mandela spoke respectfully of this poem, which kept him going during his 27 years of apartheid imprisonment.

But Mandela aside, let’s be honest and concede that Henley’s poem, which voices an eternal and profound truth about toughness and tenacity in the face of great adversity, has often been embraced and touted by right-wingers.

Last year John McCain recited a portion of it to William Kristol. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh quoted a piece of it right before his execution, for Chrissake.

And a portion of Henley’s poem was quoted verbatim by Robert Cummings in the final scene of Sam Wood‘s Kings Row (’42). Emedding the video has been disallowed so here‘s an mp3.

On top of which Cummings recites it to a bedridden Ronald Reagan, who no doubt took it to heart in his own private life (anyone of any fortitude who’s dealt with setbacks would) and look what he turned into — a popular and inspirational right-wing president who sewed the seeds of our current financial malaise in the early ’80s. The father of our misery, according to Paul Krugman.

And Eastwood is a rightie, of course — a fine fellow, a gentleman, a man of honor and respect and a jazzman par excellence, but nonetheless a man of conservative resolve who stood by McCain during last year’s campaign and confessed a certain affection last fall for the demagogue Sarah Palin.

Matt Damon, Clint Eastwood on set of what is now apparently being called Invictus.

I’ve had my own moments of “Invictus” resolve, deciding absolutely that the bastards won’t take me down, etc. I was at that point when things were going pretty badly in late ’79, when money was low and my girlfriend had dumped me. I was so depressed at one point that I slept for three or four days straight. But I’ve never succumbed to that kind of lethargy since, and one reason is that I know for a fact that when the going gets tough the tough get going. No one is more ardent in this belief than myself.

Nonetheless, Henley’s poem has been claimed by right-wing types — let’s not have any ambiguity about that.

I’m conveying a certain confusion with this post, I realize — voicing a spiritual affinity with Henley’s words while implying that the righties who’ve wrapped themselves in his poem are tainted and perverse and on top of this throwing in a lament about Reagan’s ruination of our economy etc.

I’m primarily saying that Henley seems to have been made into a right-wing patron saint by the deifying of his classic poem, and that’s fine as far as the core meaning of his words are concerned. But people should always be on the lookout for hidden right-wing agendas. The free-market righties are — certainly have been in recent years — a selfish and fiendishly belligerent bunch whose economic attitudes have let loose the wolves, given a massive green light to the worst ripoff artists in history and brought this country (indeed, the world) to its knees.