Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"LINCOLN" THE MOVIE

Last Sunday, Grandpère and I went to see "Lincoln", the movie.  I urge you to see the film.  It is excellent.  Daniel Day-Lewis will be Abraham Lincoln for generations to come.  As one reviewer put it, the Oscar for best actor might just as well be handed over to Lewis today.  His portrayal of Lincoln is superb.

Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln should be a contender for best actress, as well as Tommy Lee Jones for best supporting actor for his role as Republican leader in the US House of Representatives, Thaddeus Stevens.  And how fortunate Lincoln was to have such a wise and steadfast friend, William Seward, as Secretary of State, ably performed by David Strathairn.

Steven Spielberg's direction of the actors' performances of Tony Kushner's outstanding script is masterful.  A good deal of the material for the screenplay was taken from Doris Kearns Goodwin's book titled Team of Rivals. I would not be surprised if the film made a sweep of most of the major awards - best picture, best director, best screenplay.

The movie is not a biography, but rather tells the story of the last few months of Lincoln's life, when he was focused, first and foremost, on passage of the 13th amendment to the US Constitution abolishing slavery through a recalcitrant House of Representatives.  Sound familiar?  At the same time, Lincoln attempted to arrange the terms to end the bloody Civil War, and, in his personal life, he dealt with his emotionally fragile wife, who had already lost two sons, and strongly opposed her son Robert's determination to join the war effort.  As all the photographs of the day portray Lincoln, he was a man who bore heavy burdens.

As I watched the movie, I was carried through the history of the United States back to its beginning and forward to the present day.  We reap the bitter harvest now of our foundation as the "land of the free" with the dark stain of slavery intact.  Democracy was and is a messy form of government, which hardly ever gets things quite right, but what other form is better?

Another thought came to mind: whether consciously or unconsciously, President Obama may quite often use Lincoln as his model for how to be president.  Although the two men, Lincoln and Obama, are quite different characters and personalities, I see similarities in the manner that they conducted themselves in office.

Oh, and how in heaven's name did the Republican Party of Lincoln's day come to be the Republican Party of today?  As I pondered the answer to the question, a quick series of historical flashbacks all the way back to the beginning of our history gave me an overview of how the transformation took place.  Up until today, we still wrestle with the consequences of the institution of slavery embedded in the foundation of our country.

A film that causes me think as seriously about the history of my country as "Lincoln" might well merit the designation of "great".    

Image from Wikipedia.

UPDATE: Tobias Haller wrote a splendid review of the film titled "Lincoln as Grand Opera", which is quite different from mine, though we both come to the same conclusion that "Lincoln" is a must-see movie.  Besides, Tobias' review is that of an expert as he was an actor in another life.

28 comments:

  1. I also wonder how the Democratic Party of then managed to evolve into the people's party of today.

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    1. The great majority of Dixiecrats (southern Democrats in favor of states' rights) eventually went Republican, which helped move the process along.

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  2. Just out of interest, Grandmere, have you read James M. McPherson's 'Battle Cry of Freedom: The American Civil War'? It's an almost-encyclopedic history book covering that period of America's history from the first serious rumblings of discontent around 1850, through the Civil War (an oxymoron if ever there was) to the death of Lincoln. Seward and Stevens are covered in depth as well as Lincoln (along with just about every major - and many not-so major - players on all sides), so it will be interesting to see this film to see how it stands up to the documented evidence from the time (artistic licence notwithstanding, of course).

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    1. AofS, I have not read the book. I'm getting ready to read another lengthy tome on Thomas Cranmer by Diarmaid MacCullough, which should hold me for a while. Actually, that sort of book is more something my husband would read, and I will pass the title on to him.

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    2. I'm sure he'll enjoy it; it's rare to find an academic history book that is both full of facts and figures (as to be expected from a tome on the 'boring' subject of history) and yet remains a fascinating read. It is a lengthy book for sure, 900+ pages if memory serves, but in my opinion should be required reading for any student of the subject.

      Hint; forget Amazon, if you don't mind second-hand (or 'pre-read', as I've seen them described!) books, ebay's the place to look. I've seen copies of this book offered for a dollar or two. In fact, over the last 12 months I've bought over 50 books from various ebay sellers, all in as-new condition - or as near as makes no difference - with a combined new price of well over £2000, and have paid less than £300 in total - including postage costs.

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    3. Advice noted. Thanks. My husband likes to patronize our local book store, but they cannot always supply the books we want. We're so proud and happy to have a local book store in our small town.

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  3. I'm glad to read your review; one always approaches biographical films with hesitation, fearing the subject will have been given the Hollywood treatment of caricature and distortion, but it sounds like that is not the case here. I'll look forward to seeing it when it finally gets to Netflix.

    BTW, Obama's conscious admiration for and emulation (to some degree) of Lincoln has been written about many times, e.g. this 2008 article in the WP:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/18/AR2008111803854_pf.html

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    1. Russ, we'd heard and read so many positive reports on the movie that we were eager to go, and the film lived up to hype.

      I knew Obama had studied Lincoln and admired him. A Facebook friend described the style of the two men as "contemplative leadership", and I think that is about right.

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  4. PS - On the strength of your review, I just went and looked at a few trailers for the movie over at YouTube, and they give me a rather different impression - but of course I will reserve judgment until I see the complete film. I suppose its always difficult for filmmakers to resist the temptation to put modern souls into historical bodies, but Spielberg is a master of his craft, so it will be interesting to see the nuances of the full film.

    One quick positive impression I got is that the casting of Sally Field as Mary Todd was an inspired choice - that performance I will also look forward to eagerly.

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    1. "Lincoln" is one of Spielberg's best, and Day-Lewis relishes and inhabits the role of Lincoln to a T, even to the high-pitched voice. The war scenes at the beginning of the movie tempt you to think you'll be seeing "Saving Private Ryan" in the period of the Civil War, but they pass quickly, and the film moves on to politics. The movie has a suspenseful feel about it, even though you know how things will come out.

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  5. Does Meryl Streep play the part of Abraham lincoln?

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    1. I guess you didn't read the post, MadPriest. Streep played your dear leader, not ours. :-)

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    2. There was nothing dear about that particular ex-leader, with the exception of the cost of living under her destructive premiership.

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    3. I know, I know. Dame Maggie left wreckage in her wake. And I don't speak of Dame Maggie Smith (God bless her!).

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    4. Unfortunately she rarely went to the theatre.

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    5. MadPriest, you are terrible. Shame on you.

      Why do I laugh?

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    6. If my defence she is the only person in the world I've ever wished dead. But then I do live in the North East of England.

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    7. You bang on about how folks in the US don't pay attention to news beyond our borders, but I will never forget my shock when I heard that Thatcher had closed the mines.

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    8. I'm with MadPriest on the Milk Snatcher (she practised her heartless methods on school children first, just to hone them for when she came to power). At the time I was living near to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire and working in Sheffield, so saw first hand her demolition of the mining and steel industries and the devastation of the communities dependant on them, devastation from which they have never really recovered.
      I'm all for giving her a state funeral, as long as we don't have to wait for her to die first, a sentiment shared by a large proportion of my generation.

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    9. Ouch! I didn't live there like you English, but I know Thatcher's heartless policies caused much suffering, and the effects continue until today. Reagan took lessons from his good friend, but he was a pale copy, as he did not possess her cold steeliness.

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  6. As the topic has shifted somewhat (!) I recall a wonderful Alexie Sayle riff on Maggie T. merged with Dr. Who -- with a superb imitation of Mrs. Thatcher saying, about her recent deal with them, "The Daleks have been of profound service to the British electrical industry...."

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    1. As the topic has shifted somewhat (!)

      To say the least! Perhaps I should add your caution to "stay with the topic" to my sidebar. Still, since I have a wondering mind, I tend not to hold others to the topic.

      I have not seen the Alexie Sayle sketch, but I'd love to. I took a quick look on YouTube and did not find anything, which does not mean it's not there somewhere. Anyway, the comment sounds very like Maggie T.

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  7. It's hard to judge a politician's record from far away in another land, another culture. Realizing I never really knew the ins and outs of her political career, I recently watched many episodes of a lengthy documentary on Thatcher over at YouTube. One of the dominant impressions that came through to me was that, although she certainly did her homework and was a tireless, fearless proponent of what she believed it, still she just lacked a certain fellow-feeling for her countrymen. A bit too determined to put everything right, as she saw the right - which comes off as rather cold-hearted, you know? A great lack of, what can I say - empathy?

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    1. I don't know why, all of a sudden, spam is coming through. Blogger has been good about blocking over the last several months. I had to block anonymous comments. I don't like them anyway, but some of my friends use anonymous and sign their names, and that I do not mind. At least for a time, they will be screened out.

      Russ, about Thatcher, I take the word of my English friends, and I know for a fact that certain areas remain depressed even today as a result of her policies. You're right. The woman had no empathy.

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  8. A last and I promise final note on this topic, Mimi: you might enjoy this NYT article on "Steven Spielberg, Historian:

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/29/steven-spielberg-historian/

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    1. That's quite an interesting article. I want to read it again and chew over the information there.

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  9. When I listened to President Obamah's acceptance speech I did think it had a Gettysburgian Address flavor. The reincarnation of Lincoln in an African-American body? That would be poetic justice.

    Also those glimmers of hope that we can continue to stand fast for justice always. In spite of the hype, the lies, the money and the appeal to prejudice from the Romney camp, the good guys did not finish last.

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    1. The reincarnation of Lincoln in an African-American body? That would be poetic justice.

      Indeed. I'm so relieved Obama was reelected, despite all the attempts at voter suppression of likely Democratic voters.

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