What a coincidence that the week this movie comes out, I’m reading the Lincoln Douglas debates as well as several of Lincoln’s lengthy speeches.
“Lincoln” is the greatest representation of the Lincoln presidency I have seen. Even though we don’t completely know what he was like, Daniel Day-Lewis plays a fantastic portrayal of Lincoln’s demeanor and character. The impressive cast alone creates an award-winning performance. Big names that are favorites of mine, including Day-Lewis, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, and David Strathairn. There is no weak link in the rest of the cast, creating a film overflowing with great historical portrayals and dialogue.
That said, “Lincoln” might be too heavy on the politics and dialogue for many. The center of the story revolves around the intense politics of securing the votes for the 13th amendment, and goes through many scenes of politicians protesting the amendment back to the insistence of Lincoln on its passage. But the personal life of Lincoln is given much attention. From his love and struggles with his family, to his daily habits and life during the civil war. The immense casualties of the war were given large weight as they should, and the gruesome result was shown briefly in scenes at the start and end of the film. But “Lincoln” has plenty of historically driven humor and it’s enough to counter the reality of the times being acted out.
There was major conflict with a delegation for peace from the confederacy as it conflicted with Lincoln’s plans to abolish slavery, which would have been impossible if a peace had been arranged, or if knowledge of such a delegation was widespread. As implied in the film with aid from the book Team of Rivals,the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln is indeed a political genius. His great understanding of the country and the times allowed him the conclusion that the union of the United States could not exist as long as slavery endured. For nearly the entire existence of the country leading up to the war, the conflict of slavery divided the union to violent standstill and disagreement, a mutual hatred that could be defined with a geographic line. He knew that although most of the country probably didn’t want the freedom of all blacks, he saw it is as vital and the only way he could secure the abolishing of slavery was by using the proposed amendment as of necessity to ending the war, though it may not have been. As quoted from Lincoln’s speech, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”. If the war were to end without the ending of slavery, the union would be as fragile and bitterly divided, making the future of the union still uncertain. The intense philosophical challenging of slavery and racism during “Lincoln”, even in the face of widespread opposition at the time is inspiring, even as the somber concepts of the film add their weight.
And there lies the true genius of Spielberg’s “Lincoln”. It is a surprisingly accurate and powerful interpretation of these historical events, and the true purpose of such is to shed a human light on the often mythical image the public has of Abraham Lincoln. Though credited with saving the union and implementing some impressive domestic policy, I have often struggled to consider Lincoln as the nation’s greatest president because his presidency is defined so deeply by the civil war. But after reading and further shaping from this film, I have come to the conclusion that Lincoln likely is our greatest president because he did what is unlikely to have been done for many generations to come. A number of Republican figures running against Lincoln could have won the presidency and ignited the civil war. But I now find it impossible to believe that any man but Lincoln could have had the insight and courage to take on the institution of slavery and be successful as he was. Any man might be delighted to meet a quick peace agreement to end the bloodiest American war, but Lincoln delayed aggressive action on the hope for the 13th amendment abolishing slavery, so that the root cause of the civil war would not haunt America any longer. Few would have the courage to accept further death for such an ambitious and unlikely goal. Ending slavery in the U.S. was more challenging than in any other democracy because of its deep economic and social entrenchment in American culture. Imagine if the war ended and slavery were allowed to continue. Our political system would have been grappling with slavery and further race issues for another hundred years to come, and the world power status we achieved may not have come as it did without the guidance of reconstruction policy as Lincoln had assigned. In exploring the reaches of political coercion and federal power, Lincoln became a model for righteousness beyond his time.
“Lincoln” is a political thriller in the same sense that “Argo” is, as the end result is widely known. But “Lincoln” has a more profound philosophical implication as well as historical importance. The impeccable quality of all aspects of the film gives it lasting value and mandatory viewing. Life during the civil war in politics and society are carefully dramatized, greater than any historical portrayal of the time I’ve seen, and its unlikely any of us will see such quality about this era again anytime soon. Dedicated to a widely declared hero of the United States, “Lincoln” is a fantastic film that will move any audience, during a time when sacrificial righteousness is an exceedingly rare quality exercised in the politics of today.
I give it a 9.6/10