Saturday, November 17, 2012

Steven's Lincoln

I loved Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, both as a student of history and of film. No longer is Henry Fonda the Abraham Lincoln of cinema, now it is Daniel Day-Lewis. 1860s America was brought to life in the Dreamworks picture set in the last four months of Lincoln's life.

It tells the story of a recently reelected Lincoln that seeks to pass the 13th Amendment before the end of his first term. A year and a half prior, Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation which limited freeing slaves in the rebel States. The 13th Amendment was to abolish it for all time by writing it into the Constitution. He must bring a divided Republican Party, conservatives and radicals, together while still trying to get Democratic support in the House of Representatives, the place where the legislative action takes place. We see the two sides argue like nothing C-SPAN has ever shown. Another obstacle Lincoln must face is the peace envoy from the rebel States. The peace talks are used as a reason not to pass the amendment.

Legislative procedure and wartime diplomacy are turned into a screenplay with the main tension: will Lincoln get the 13th Amendment passed in the House of Representatives? With the tension of the 3rd Act, Lincoln meeting with envoy from the South. Like a good character in any film, Lincoln has obstacles he must over come and what we get a glimpse of is 19th Century politics, as Lincoln plays politics to accomplish a truly noble goal of abolishing slavery with the 13th Amendment. We see Lincoln the politician, which all great presidents are. We also see Lincoln the man.

Lincoln shows his human side from visiting the troops, to giving piggy-back rides to his son Tad, to arguing with his wife. We also get to see the human side of other 19th Century figures and the struggles with accepting equality with blacks, both from a tolerant and intolerant view. The human side was brought to life, giving a glimpse of world known through historical bullet points.

This film was about a politician trying to do good for his country and it happened that it took place two months before his death. The film never really touched on his assassination, except for a couple of beats, once in the beginning and then again at the end. But it wasn't a rehash of the conspiracy that is well known...well to a good number of people. I'm sure a good portion know the basics of the Lincoln assassination conspiracy which 1/3 of was played out on April 14, 1865. Spoiler alert, for real too, we never see the Lincolns and the Rathbones (a total 19th Century sounding name) at Ford's Theater, just that Lincoln is running late for an evening out with the young couple. Just telling that moment in time can be an entire picture. Spielberg approaches the moment of assassination moment from the average Washingtonian that night in nation's capital with the young Tad as our emotional and character connection. All that is accomplished to also resolve the politician, human, and character by introducing the historical figure of Abraham Lincoln.

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