I saw the new Steven Spielberg movie “Lincoln” tonight and it was excellent – well-cast, beautifully shot, and – historically speaking – fairly accurate.
Tune in tomorrow for when I update this post with some actual thoughts… I am thisclose to falling asleep right now so can’t do it justice.
It’s tomorrow now, and time for me to actually write something about the movie.
I am not, in general, a fan of “what ifs,” especially when it comes to history. We don’t get do-overs, so I think speculating alternative histories is a fairly pointless, if occasionally amusing, activity. That said, I couldn’t shake the “what if” feeling as I left the movie theater last night. What if Abraham Lincoln hadn’t been assassinated? What if Thaddeus Stephens and other radical Republicans had not been allowed to enact their South-humiliating version of reconstruction, rather than the “malice toward none” ideal Lincoln sought? What would our country look like today? Would we have done a better job of welcoming the formerly enslaved into citizenship?
I’m not sure that’s what I was supposed to leave the theater thinking. I expect director Steven Spielberg chose the specific events of the film — the contentious debates in the House surrounding the passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery — to remind us that our modern contentious times are nothing new, that overheated rhetoric and back room dealings are not 21st century creations. And seeing the arguments made in a time when Republicans were seen as radicals and Democrats as conservatives also serves as a reminder of the fluidity of our political systems.
I think, too, that Spielberg wanted to remind us how far we’ve come. In a quiet scene on the steps of the White House, Lincoln asks Mrs. Keckley, Mary Lincoln’s seamstress (historically, anyway — in the film she seemed to just be a companion), what she thought “her people” would achieve once they were free. You could practically hear the audience thinking, “The same office as you, sir, one day.”
All of this is a long way of saying that “Lincoln” was a tremendously thought-provoking film, and one that’s well worth the time to see. The performances were uniformly excellent — I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the movie sweeps the Oscars in the acting categories — and it’s gorgeously shot. It will be opening nationwide at the end of the week (the Bethesda theater where I saw it is one of the limited pre-release sites) and it really should be on your to-do list for the weekend.