Sunday, December 9, 2012

Lincoln




I presume that by now most of you have heard about the new Steven Spielberg film “Lincoln”. I saw it last week with fear and trepidation.  I believe I was worried that I would not like it because all I really heard about it is that it was very long.  Since I am always screaming for an editor this was what I presumed my fate would be.  I needn’t have been worried. 

I have been trying to figure out what has had me so interested in Lincoln.  In 6th grade I wrote the longest report that I ever wrote before college, a 30 page hand written document about Lincoln for a history teacher. At the age of 12 or 13 the assassination of a president was a dramatic and engaging event though this was years before President Kennedy was assassinated. Lincoln’s story and that of the Civil War are inseparable.  In that conflict over 600,000 Americans were killed more than in any other armed conflict before or since. I just found and re-read my school paper and while it gives many of the highlights of Lincoln’s life it does not refer to one of Lincoln’s most important accomplishments, achieved just two and a half months before his death, the passage of the13th Amendment to the Constitution.

The purpose of the 13th amendment is well known even if not by its number.  Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”  Lincoln’s earlier “Emancipation Proclamation” had no bearing on the South after the Civil War, therefore, Lincoln felt it necessary to have an amendment to the constitution passed by congress.”

This is the focus of the film and through it we learn many things about Lincoln’s life such as his relationship with his Secretary of State, the Congress, his children and his wife, Mary.  The latter has so often been depicted as simply mad but the film gives her a far more sympathetic portrayal.  In a human scenario Mary begs her husband not to allow their eldest son, Robert, to join the Union army but when Robert says he will not be able to live with himself if he does not serve, there comes a moment when a father, even if he is the President, has to cut the strings.

We have to remember that Lincoln was a Republican and at the time the Republican Party consisted of the liberal legislators and the Democrats were more conservative.  Many of the Republicans were also concerned about giving the Negro total freedom and they did not want to move too quickly.  I personally believe that much of the resistance we see today towards our President are based on similar prejudices.




Daniel Day-Lewis is fabulous as Lincoln and the pain the Civil War inflicts on the President is never far from the surface.  But what amazed me was how great the entire cast is.  An Academy award for Sally Field, best known as the Flying Nun, for her role here as Mary Todd Lincoln would not be out of the question. David Strathairn as William Seward is totally believable as the ever-loyal Secretary of Sate.  Tommy Lee Jones is so convincing as the radical liberal senator Thaddeus Stevens, who wants nothing less than immediate total equality for all people, in my opinion, practically stole the show.

 The surrender is shown in a very brief meeting where Robert E. Lee sits regally upon his horse and Ulysses S. Grant goes on foot to greet him, and possibly says something that is not heard but Grant’s clear respect for Lee shines through like a beacon in an otherwise dismal day.  The scene probably lasts less than a minute but I found it one of the most emotionally moving of the film.

I would have concluded the film with the passage of the 13th amendment by the Congress on the 31st of January 1865 and not continued to the assassination as well as a flashback. I guess that I am again calling for an editor, but that is a thought more in the interest of the director making the film a bit tighter.  I was, however, not bored, there was so much to learn.  I did not realize that on the night that Lincoln was shot his son Tad was watching a play in a different theater and heard the announcement from that stage.  I would love to sit down with Steven Spielberg and learn why he felt the extra scenes were necessary.

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