Sunday, December 9, 2012

Movie: Lincoln

"One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war...Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether"
                                                                Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address
                                                                          Washington, D.C. April 4 1865

I can't recommend enough that people go see the movie, Lincoln. This brilliant biopic has everything necessary to keep the viewer engaged; a fascinating cast of characters, a man fitted to the unique period in a young country's history, and a battle to the death, not just for a nation but for its individual citizens. It is partly based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography, Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States and the first to be assassinated. Born in Kentucky in 1809, Abraham Lincoln grew into a very determined, ambitious man who was self-taught (he had only one year of formal schooling). Lincoln married Mary Todd and they had four sons. In 1860 he was elected President. On January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation which stated that all persons held as slaves in the seceded states were free. This proclamation although not freeing all slaves in the United States changed the country and the face of the war. Lincoln was re-elected in 1864, a year which saw the Union win many significant battles in the Civil War. Lincoln was assassinated on Good Friday, April 14, 1865 by John Wilkes Booth.

The movie, Lincoln, focuses in on a very narrow time period in US history, the month of January 1865 when Lincoln, struggles to get his 13th Amendment to the Constitution which would forever ban slavery in the United States passed by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. But President Lincoln has before him two choices: an early peace thus dooming his amendment (the southern states will vote against the amendment) or pushing through passage of the amendment ahead of peace so that slavery in the United States is no longer when the southern states return to the Union post-Civil War. Lincoln, the consummate politician fought for what he had come to believe in - that all men are created equal before God and ultimately succeeded.

So the film focuses on portraying Lincoln as a political strategist while giving us glimpses into his relationship with his political adversaries and party members as well as his personal life. As is typical of a Spielberg film, there is much attention to historical detail. Although there was a censors warning and there is a bit of spicy language, there isn't much gore and Lincoln's assassination is done offscreen. The most poignant scene in the film is the one where Lincoln leaves for the Ford Theatre and we watch along with his black servant as he walks down a long hall.

This is a movie with many fine performances including those by Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, David Strathairn as William Seward. I felt that Tommy Lee Jones almost stole the spotlight as Thaddeus Stevens, a crusty Republican who had worked against slavery for thirty years. Almost. Stevens had a reputation for being witty and sarcastic, a characteristic Tommy Lee Jones brilliantly portrays in the film. Stevens was known to have supported the rights of many different races in the United States but gradually came to focus more and more on slavery. Today we can appreciate his strength of character in promoting and supporting the equality of all men and women before God, at time when most felt white men were deemed by God to be superior to all others.

The movie effectively captures, if only in brief scenes, the bloody conflict and the tremendous loss of life that characterized the Civil War. And John Williams, famous for his Star Wars music, composed the beautiful, soaring musical score for Lincoln.

My only caution regarding Lincoln, is that there will be some viewers who will have wanted a more encompassing view of Lincoln rather than a focus on the last four months of his life. But I feel, that Spielberg was able to capture the essence of Lincoln, as a man and a politician in his approach.

Watch the trailer and go see the movie. It is one of the best this year.

Those interested in the life of Abraham Lincoln can access an online biography, Abraham Lincoln: A life by Michael Burlingame on the Knox College website This online version is the author's original unedited version of his two volume biography which was published in 2008. Each chapter is presented as a separate pdf file. It is "believed by many Lincoln scholars to be the most exhaustively researched and fully documented biography of Abraham Lincoln ever written." Please remember that this work is copyrighted and therefore any use must be accredited to the author.

Information about Thaddeus Stevens can be found at The Stevens and Smith Historic Site.

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