Last Thursday, I had an opportunity to attend a preview of Steven Spielberg’s new movie Lincoln, based on the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, written by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Once we got by security which included being waved over with a wand and checking cell phones into plastic bags in exchange for claim tickets, a member of our group joked out loud, “Is Obama here tonight?” Taking into consideration the present era of technological boom we are living in, I supposed the producers of the film and the owners of Muvico had legitimate concerns of potential piracy. This is a Steven Spielberg film we’re talking about here after all.
For those of you who enjoy a great political drama, this is absolutely the film for you. I was completely enthralled by Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Abraham Lincoln as the masterful politician who is able to dissect opaque laws and bureaucratic gridlock, while at the same time either charming opponents with amusing anecdotes or corralling wayward congressmen who are on the brink of abandoning once steadfast affirmations. Day-Lewis’ brilliance as an actor shines through the screen as we see his Lincoln in continuous tumult, agonizing over his desperate attempts to be both a loving husband and attentive father, all while leading the nation in a time of civil war and social upheaval.
Sally Field as Mary Lincoln is equally powerful, always prodding her husband to not act hastily with respect to pushing legislation through what has proven to be a resistant congress, and firing subtle reminders to legislators of Lincoln’s preeminence. When Mary bears down on Lincoln under the weight of the thought of losing another son, this time to the horror of war, Field’s intensity radiates, as she forces her husband into the hot seat over his promotion of the Union’s efforts to thwart the Confederacy. He is forced into the awful dilemma of separating the prospect of victory from the cost of losing a family.
This film, which ultimately is an account of how the 13th amendment to end slavery in America came to be, in my opinion, could not have arrived at a more consequential time. Today, when our country’s government is similarly divided by party affiliations, there are issues at stake which will affect all Americans. The question that history will answer will be what issue defined the day: healthcare, immigration, gay marriage, unemployment. Take your pick! But the history books will also record the story of how our representatives in our nation’s capital responded to the challenge. This time those representatives are made up of men and women of various ethnic and sexual orientations. The story of how well they were able to put their differences aside for the betterment of the country will ultimately be the story of us. And for that reason, Lincoln premiers as a cinematic herald for the times.
(Illustration at top is a drawing of the official White House portrait, also found in Student Handbook Including Webster’s New World Dictionary Volume 2 © 1984)