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.