Last Friday Plantboy and I went to a remarkable movie, though it is more like the best-documentary-ever than a movie really.
I have wanted to see Lincoln for some months, but didn't get serious until the Academy Award nominations came out last week, with Lincoln dominating the lists. And I have to say, I don't even know what sound mixing is and I think Lincoln should sweep.
Spoiler alert: The 13th Amendment passes. The war ends. Slavery is abolished. Lincoln dies.
We all know this. So how does Spielberg create a movie of such suspense and interest? I suppose the only answer is that he is the master of his craft. This is a story that could have been trite and sappy, and has, indeed been told before.
But Spielberg gives what might be the most important time in American history the treatment is deserves. My friend told me that she was so emotional during the end, willing Lincoln not to leave for the theatre that night. Daniel Day-Lewis was this character so convincingly that you understood that when he left the cabinet room that night the US would plunge into a hundred years of Cold Civil War. And despite his triumph, you despair. His life was cruelly cut short; or is it that God took him home to give him the true rest and peace he craved and deserved?
And though the big facts (stated above as "spoilers") are common knowledge, many of the details were new to me, and helped to shed further light on the political process. You see, Lincoln did not have the votes to get the amendment passed, but he knew that it must. IT MUST. If his life's work and that horrible war was to be worth anything the amendment had to pass, by any means necessary. When it does pass, Tommy Lee Jones, as abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens says, "The greatest measure of the 19th century was passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America." Lincoln and his ideals were pure. The political process is anything but.
Perhaps this, at its heart, is why most people hate politics. Our 2012 perspective marvels that an amendment abolishing slavery was so hard to pass, particularly considering there were no southern states represented in congress at the time. And yet it was . . . our country came within a few votes of being right back where it was when the Civil War started. These men are presented for exactly what people are--confused, self-serving, nobly impulsed, a product of their times and culture, and just, so, human. Our race has produced Hitler and Ghengis Kahn and Osama Bin Laden. But it has also produced Einstein and Joseph Smith and Lincoln. All of the worst and best is present in each of us.
Our country is great because it has time and again, with stops and starts and by inches, moved forward. With all of our messy imperfections. America still has a long way to go, and much to learn. But if Lincoln is to provide any lessons, it is that people of good faith can triumph over evil, one tiny step at a time.
If you are looking for a Lincoln biography, this is not your film. But if you like politics and riveting performances, don't let another week go by without getting a ticket. Bring your Kleenex.
My last point is that this is exactly the opposite of a chick flick, seeing that there is a shocking lack of women in the movie. The only major award Lincoln was not nominated for was Best Actress. There is no lead actress. I can't help but think the entire history of the world would be different if women had been given more say in the way things work. If the anger portrayed in the film over the possibility that Black men will one day vote is one-sided . . . the anger over women's suffrage is universal. It is a funny moment, but only because it was so long ago. It would be another 60 plus years before women were given equal status in the law.