Another Spielberg epic which I watched without knowing anything except that I would find Joseph Gordon-Levitt somewhere in it. He has a really small part but the movie was a good experience.
I know nothing about the US history and how the slavery was abolished so this movie was more of a lesson than a knowledgeable experience.
I have no idea how Abraham Lincoln is supposed to be, but Daniel Day Lewis was certainly a character – he definitely leaves a strong impression; and so do Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Lee Pace, Peter McRobbie and James Spader. I have listed out the actors for characters which left the strongest imprints on my mind after the viewing: Thaddeus Stevens, Mary Lincoln, Seward, Fernando Wood, George Pendelton and Bilbo. I was pleasantly surprised to find Lee Pace and Adam Driver in their roles. Driver has impressed me a lot in Paterson and seeing him even in his small role here was exciting.
So all my ignorance aside, I am finally beginning to understand the fans’ fascination with Spielberg and his epics. I’ve watched three different Spielberg movies in the past month (and a couple of others before), so in this one again, I can see the conflict between right and wrong, moral issues, humanity and war.
In the context of the movie, Lincoln is as much a lawyer as a president – in fact, he is a “good” President because he is a good lawyer. He goes all out making mistakes and speaking blatant lies (or as Pendleton put it – “a lawyer’s dodge”) in the greater interest of the people. The conflict between nation and its people is something central to Spielberg now in my mind. And a more important theme that repeats itself is humanity vs nation (which will, at times, include a greater population of the nation’s people).
Thaddeus Stevens, who seems to have the “most correct” idea about human equality is “too radical” and might prove to be a hindrance to the amendment abolishing slavery in the first place. Lincoln, on the other hand, has a more tempered approach because he must be the bridge between those who do not even consider the African Americans as humans and those who see them as equal to the whites – and even better than a lot of whites. The enormity of the task ahead of Lincoln is very well shown via the various characters. However, these characters hold their own even in a story centered around Lincoln pushing forward the amendment for abolishing slavery.
And since now I have touched upon the topic of slavery, Lincoln’s own views on slavery are as “diplomatic” as his approach to pushing forward the amendment to abolish it. What seemed “insanely” radical in Stevens is actually basic humanity. The contrast drawn with Lincoln, who is never as vocal or radical in his views as Stevens, does Lincoln no credit. While his diplomacy is what abolished slavery in the first place, there is still a selfish superior guardedness in him. He won’t let his son enlist in the army. His answer to Mrs Keckley is diplomatic. There is anger in him when his own men squabble over the amendment because he wants to abolish slavery. But the anger is because they are fighting amongst themselves and he feels it hinders him from doing something good.
Of course, Lincoln has his heart in the right place. He has led a destructive four year war because of this cause. So he must believe whole heartedly in the abolishment of slavery. But to what extent does he believe in racial equality, if at all? Is his diplomacy simply the need of the hour – he must not betray his deeper aspirations? The near end of the movie would have one believe it to be so. His speech after the war has been won isn’t radical enough for Stevens – and he concurs?
The movie was, of course, interesting as far as Lincoln was concerned. However, since it is also about the 13th Amendment and abolishment of slavery, I felt that there was a distinct lack of focus on slavery and the “black people-Lincoln” interaction moments stood out a bit too much.
I’m propelled to check out more into the history. Overall, it was quite a good experience.