Saturday At the Movies: Our National Role Model

I have yet to see Lincoln (the Spousal Unit & I saw five movies in theatres during 2012, and 43% to 100% of them were cartoons*), but we’re finally seeing reviews that go beyond the anodyne. Roy Edroso at alicublog takes a professional interest:

… If you thought Tony Kushner’s involvement might make Lincoln an elevating experience, well, it certainly elevates the tone. Kushner’s a serious writer, but so was William Faulkner and I don’t see the Library of America publishing a handsome edition of the screenplays he worked on….

The plot centers on the fight to pass the 13th Amendment, in the course of which Lincoln is revealed to be a consummate wheeler-dealer — but that has always been part of the Lincoln legend; as Tad Gallagher observes about Ford’s Lincoln, he’s “not above a bit of dissimulation, cheating or force to get things done.” Maybe this is part of why we love Lincoln — he shows that even when your ambition is a little engine that knows no rest, you may still do great things that can justify it. That Lincoln’s ambition was turned toward ending slavery makes it easier to believe; you probably couldn’t get the same kind of drama out of a battle to pass the Revenue Act.

Munich was about idealists who wade in blood but somehow keep their souls clean, and Lincoln is about a man to whom the muck of politics does not adhere even as he clambers through the filthy roominghouse attic of his political fixers. Abe is practically magical; at one point he suddenly appears in Edwin Stanton’s war room, unobserved till he breaks his silence. Several times (or maybe it just seemed like several times) his cabinet is near rebellion, and Abe defuses the situation with some cornpone humor (which, frankly, must be magic as the jokes aren’t that good). Much of William Seward’s dialogue could be boiled down to “Ooooh, you’ll be the death of me yet, Abraham Lincoln!” Lincoln confounds friend and enemy alike, and finally gets the big job done…

Thomas Frank at Harpers (subscription required, but at $17 for a year’s worth of good reading, well worth it) is more explicit, and more angry, at Kushner’s/Spielberg’s political gloss:

[T]he movie Spielberg actually made goes well beyond justifying compromise: it justifies corruption. Lincoln and his men, as they are depicted here, do not merely buttonhole and persuade and deceive. They buy votes outright with promises of patronage jobs and (it is strongly suggested) cash bribes. The noblest law imaginable is put over by the most degraded means. As the real-life Thaddeus Stevens, leader of the Radical Republicans in the House of Representatives, is credited with having said after the amendment was finally approved: “The greatest measure of the nineteenth century was passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America.”

The movie is fairly hard on crusading reformers like Stevens. The great lesson we are meant to take from his career is that idealists must learn to lie and to keep their mouths shut at critical moments if they wish to be effective. Lobbyists, on the other hand, are a class of people the movie seems at pains to rehabilitate. Spielberg gives us a raffish trio of such men, hired for the occasion by William Seward, and they get the legislative job done by throwing money around, buying off loose votes — the usual. They huddle with the holy Lincoln himself to talk strategy, and in a climactic scene, Spielberg shows us that a worldly lobbyist can work wonders while a public servant dithers about legalisms. Happy banjo-and-fiddle music starts up whenever they are on-screen — drinking, playing cards, dangling lucrative job offers — because, after all, who doesn’t love a boodle-bundling gang of scamps?

To repeat: Spielberg & Co. have gone out of their way to vindicate political corruption. They have associated it with the noblest possible cause; they have made it seem like harmless high jinks for fun-loving frat boys; they have depicted reformers as ideological killjoys who must renounce their beliefs in order to succeed. This is, in short, what Lincoln is about. All right, then: what does it mean to make such a movie in the year 2012?

Tony Kushner, the celebrated playwright who wrote the script for Lincoln, told NPR that the project had allowed him “to look at the Obama years through a Lincoln lens.” As in 1865, he said, there is enormous potential now for “rebuilding a real progressive democracy in this country.” There are “obstacles” to this project, however. And among the most notable ones, in Kushner’s view, are those damn liberals — or more specifically, “an impatience on the part of very good, very progressive people with the kind of compromising that you were just mentioning, the kind of horse trading that is necessary.”

Many observers have described Lincoln as a gloss on President Obama’s struggles with the Republican House of Representatives. The film’s real message, however, is both grander than this and much smaller. It is, in fact, a two-and-a-half-hour étude on yet another favorite cliché: the impracticality of reform….

Lincoln is a movie that makes viewers feel noble at first, but on reflection the sentiment proves hollow. This is not only a hackneyed film but a mendacious one. Like other Spielberg productions, it drops you into a world where all the great moral judgments have been made for you already — Lincoln is as absolutely good as the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark are absolutely bad — and then it smuggles its tendentious political payload through amid those comfortable stereotypes…

*Brave, Rise of the Guardians, Argo, John Carter of Mars, and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Anybody here seen the movie, and would like to share their opinions?

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102 replies
  1. 1
    Napoleon says:

    Lincoln is a great movie and Frank is full of it.

  2. 2
    BGinCHI says:

    To repeat: Spielberg & Co. have gone out of their way to vindicate political corruption. They have associated it with the noblest possible cause; they have made it seem like harmless high jinks for fun-loving frat boys; they have depicted reformers as ideological killjoys who must renounce their beliefs in order to succeed. This is, in short, what Lincoln is about. All right, then: what does it mean to make such a movie in the year 2012?

    My first reaction to this (in short: it would be longer if this weren’t a blog comment) is: this is more historically accurate than not. I’m afraid critics who write this way about the period assume that there weren’t characters very much like the fellows who buy/bribe/cajole for votes. There were.

    Have these people ever read the newspapers of the 19th century? They are much livelier, much more partisan, and much more shenanigan-filled than ours are, or have been for decades.

    Look, I’m not a Spielberg fan. But the film breathes life into history in a way that most genuflecting productions don’t. As if history were a costume drama.

    And Kushner’s great feat was to have written such a good screenplay after being influence by Doris Kerns Goodwin, who is the Ryan Seacrest of historians.

  3. 3
    Nicole says:

    I saw the movie. I had problems with it, but not one of “idealism must compromise in the world of politics” because, well, duh. Politics, as has been said many times before, is the art of the possible, and I thought the middle section of the movie captured that and made it interesting. Jesus Christ, of COURSE there was horse trading and bribes. It happened in order to get health care reform passed, too. And if horse trading and bribes ends the worst kind of human injustice, or opens the door to people getting a chance to escape the terror of illness sending them into poverty, I say, great, bring on the ponies and the dollar bills.

    I thought the opening was ridonkulous and the ending went on five minutes too long. But Later Spielberg can’t resist a chance to make a child actor to do some scenery chewing.

    I thought Daniel Day-Lewis does a fine job, but I don’t love him as an actor the way I did in the 1990s. He’s all artifice and no inner journey anymore, but since Lincoln in the film has no inner journey, and in fact comes across as a complete cipher, it’s fine. I did think Tommy Lee Jones was terrific and does make a great journey.

    (For the record, I thought Day-Lewis’ performance in “In the Name of the Father” was one of the best things I ever saw committed to film. I miss that actor a lot.)

  4. 4
    Cacti says:

    Munich was zionist agitprop.

  5. 5
    Emma says:

    You know, idealists in politics are people who talk grandly and get nothing done except get their names in the paper. The nature of that beast is unclean — but it’s better than war.

    (edit) And yes, I know there was a war anyway. But that was inevitable in this case. Mostly politics are about compromises — and the biggest the issue the bigger the compromise.

  6. 6
    Mr Stagger Lee says:

    @BGinCHI: Not to mention the vicious attacks and political chicanery that was practiced back then, Ironically another Daniel Day Lewis movie The Gangs Of New York highlight some of the low down tricks of the day as practiced by the Tamanny Hall boss William(Boss)Tweed. It would take the assassination of James Garfield in 1881, that there was a need to reform the civil service system, that was bitterly opposed by some of the Republicans back then because it took away their power.

  7. 7
    Keith G says:

    As others point to, christ on a bicycle Mr Frank. Read some freekin history. Honest Abe (yeah right) said his campaign in 1860 was the dirtiest meanest thing he had ever experienced (to that point). What a precious flower Thomas Frank is.

    I certainly wouldn’t spend 17 drachma for a chance to read him.

  8. 8
    some guy says:

    I thought Kushner did a decent job explaining the 3 factions of the Republicans, but the portraits of Steward and Stanton and Stevens were all very 2-dimensional.

  9. 9
    Raven says:

    @Nicole: And Pete Postlethwaite was fucking robbed of the Oscar!

  10. 10
    Nicole says:

    @Raven: So, so true. That movie just tore me to shreds. In the best possible way.

  11. 11
    Tom The First says:

    Great movie. Great script. Spielberg and Scorsese are our greatest living directors. (Though Spielberg’s later works have been a tad more spottier than Scorsese’s.)

  12. 12
    Machine-Gun Preacher (formerly Ben Franklin) says:

    We should expect some progress. Indeed there has been some, but evolution is slower than the movement of glaciers. Devolution might be better described by Zero Dark Thirty, for the shameless promulgation of torture, as the current struggle for the fulfillment of the 13th Amendment moves inch-by-inch.

  13. 13
    TD says:

    “There have been an estimated 16,000 books written about Abraham Lincoln; like the lives of the wealthy and the secrets of self-improvement, a fascination with the Great Emancipator is an unchanging feature of American literary taste. Few of these volumes, however, have had the extraordinary resilience of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.”

    Kind of hard to take this review seriously after this line.

    I mean, really. Few of the 16,000 books written over the last 100+ years have the resiliency of a tome that is barely 7 years old. Good grief.

  14. 14
    My Truth Hurts says:

    The movie shows the truth of what happened. It doesn’t try to whitewash corruption, it shows how the sausage was made in the mid 19th century. Offering jobs was not yet illegal even if it was questionable. Ben Franklin himself got all the printing contracts for the new US government. It was how it was done. It was a different time. Just because nowadays money if funneled through PACS and campaing contributions doesn’t mean it isn’t bribery. AT least in Lincoln they don’t prentend it’s anything but bribery. I would prefer that to the two faced liars we have today.

  15. 15
    BGinCHI says:

    Since this is a movie thread….

    Has anyone else here seen The Kid With the Bike? It’s by the Dardenne Brothers, Belgium, 2011.

    Really stunning film and a piece of film-making you won’t see in this country (hardly ever, at least).

    I give it 3 thumbs up.

  16. 16
    Suffern ACE says:

    I thought the story was more interesting as a parable of how we all don’t come together but get stuff done anyway and that one can spend a great deal of time not being forthright, but still get away with being called honest. Where was the straight shooting from the hip maverick who saves us all?

  17. 17
    BGinCHI says:

    @TD: I think “resilience” is a synonym for “insipid.”

  18. 18
    Raven says:

    @BGinCHI: Hmm, it was ok. We just watched the Beasts of the Southern Wild and Lolita is on in the background.

    eta I just went to “Beasts” on IMDB and here’s a comment:
    “loved it. reminded me of a dardenne bros film. what a unique and exciting new voice in film. “

  19. 19
    Nicole says:

    @Machine-Gun Preacher (formerly Ben Franklin): I saw Zero Dark Thirty; I didn’t think it came across as promoting torture at all. Far from it.

  20. 20
    Machine-Gun Preacher (formerly Ben Franklin) says:

    @Suffern ACE:

    Where was the straight shooting from the hip maverick who saves us all?

    Django?

  21. 21
    bemused senior says:

    Lincoln is a must-see movie. As others have said, Thomas Frank is nuts. See this article regarding the role of the Doris Kearns-Goodwin book.

    One of the things I most appreciated about the movie was the depiction of the White House interiors of the time. It really gave the feeling of an environment without modern conveniences. Similarly, the way the battlefields and hospitals were shown helped to understand the ghastly casualties of the Civil War.

  22. 22
    HinTN says:

    Thomas Franks’ review is shallow and basically horse hockey. Go see!

  23. 23
    Ridge says:

    Lincoln-
    Having read Vidal’s Lincoln; a truly great book about lawyers going to war and all the back stabbing / back scratching that entails (and seemingly the real basis for the film), I was prepared for good old 19th century muck.

    Remember Stevens’ comment to Lincoln about the supremely corrupt 1st Sec of War Simon Cameron, “I do not believe he would steal a red hot stove.” When Cameron demanded a retraction, Stevens gave him one-
    “I do believe he would perhaps steal a red hot stove”

    That, plus all the noble patriotism, was the atmosphere in Washington during the Civil War. So all the hand wringing doesn’t mean much.

    Other movies haven’t seen but
    John Carter of Mars.
    I liked this a lot. So what its been plagiarized for 30 years. Still a good action movie with some thought put into it. Plus Hot Chicks.

    R

  24. 24
    BGinCHI says:

    @Raven: Great coincidence…we’re going to watch Beasts tonight.

  25. 25
    BGinCHI says:

    @Ridge: Lincoln was singularly devoid of hot chicks.

    Maybe that’s what sent Frank over the edge.

  26. 26
    Raven says:

    @BGinCHI: I await your review.

    subtitles helped greatly

  27. 27
    HinTN says:

    @TD: Well, I’ll grant you that it’s a newbie, but it is one hell of a piece of history writing.

  28. 28
    Suffern ACE says:

    @Machine-Gun Preacher (formerly Ben Franklin): I kept waiting for the grand speech from the rose garden. Where was the grand speech, the rose garden moment.

  29. 29
    Chris says:

    The movie is NOT hard of Thaddeus Stevens. For one thing, it rehabilitates the man’s Hollywood image after Birth Of A Nation fucked it up (abolitionists used to be remembered as we now remember DFHs). And it’s not as simple as “Lincoln right, Stevens wrong;” Lincoln wouldn’t have jack if Stevens hadn’t been pushing the cause for years and laying the groundwork for the amendment, and in the end, Stevens does understand the need for compromise.

    The lesson I got from the movie was that you need the Stevens radicals and the Lincoln moderates both.

  30. 30
    Roger Moore says:

    @Suffern ACE:

    Where was the grand speech, the rose garden moment.

    The grand speech was the section from the second inaugural they had as the last clip in the movie. I get chills just from reading that speech, and I thought hearing Day-Lewis deliver it was the highlight of the movie.

  31. 31
    HinTN says:

    @bemused senior: Went to visit the house that was the focus of the book “Widow of the South” and saw the display of a sawbones kit from that period. Would NOT want to go back to that time!

  32. 32
    Xantar says:

    Slightly off topic: when will critics figure out that just because a movie (or any other work of narrative art) portrays something that it doesn’t mean it endorses that very thing? I suppose we’re also supposed to think that Travis Bickle is a model citizen because he does actually end up saving the child prostitute, so the movie he’s in endorses vigilantism and insanity.

  33. 33
    hitchhiker says:

    Agree with those above who said the following about Lincoln:

    1. First and last five minutes of the movie are not very good.
    2. Thomas Frank is too precious for his own good, much less mine. I miss Lewis Lapham, whose cynicism could be exhausting, but who was at least original and adult.
    3. It’s a brilliant film.

    And with this comment about Zero Dark Thirty:
    1. It doesn’t glorify or advocate for torture.

    ZDT is a terrific film . . . and my opinion about the brutal scenes is that once they decided to make a move about the time period from Sept 2001 to May 2011, they would have been cowards and liars to leave out the facts about what was done to those prisoners during the Bush administration. So. No film, or a chicken-shit dishonest film? The torture happened. The movie doesn’t say it was necessary, and it certainly doesn’t say it was sufficient. OTOH, we get to learn about an anonymous woman who brought down fucking Osama bin Laden by sheer force of intelligence and will. I vote for having the film, torture warts and all.

  34. 34
    Short Bus Bully says:

    Must be huntin’ season! The sacred cows are in heat and the mighty Contrarian Sportsman polishes up his favorite shootin’ ‘arn.

    What a crock of shit.

    Politics were brutally corrupt back then as they are now, but that doesn’t mean that overthrowing slavery and passing the 13th Amendment were not great and glorious achievements for this country. A lot of shady shit had to happen to make it go, but ultimately the ends DID justify the means.

    I’d rather read Mr. Franks try and argue why we should have waited on the 13th Amendment until we could drain the political swamps and not dirty our pristine garments with the stains of reality. The perfect IS the enemy of the good.

    Fuck that. Lincoln did right. The movie is good. That review is my ass.

  35. 35
    TD says:

    @HinTN:

    I mean, sure. But it’d be like saying: “There have been an estimated 100,000 musicians who have played since The Beatles; and like the lives of the wealthy and the secrets of self-improvement, a fascination with pop music is an unchanging feature of American taste. Few however, have had the extraordinary resilience of The Arcade Fire.”

    I mean, I like The Arcade Fire, but who the heck knows anything about their supposed “resilience”, eight year out?

  36. 36

    The movie was entertaining and close enough to the history and biography I’ve read that I give a definite thumbs up.

    I don’t understand why Franks wanted something other than the reality of political matters. If he thinks the film made Stevens and the abolitionists look like a political problem, he really ought to read what contemporaries said about them. The Radical Republicans were a lot more popular after the war was over and Lincoln was a martyr.

    I would take issue with the clownish portrayal of the lobbyists rather than their being included in the story. These were serious people.

    I did not like the opening scene but have become inured to such Spielbergian flourishes.

  37. 37
    Davis X. Machina says:

    Anybody here seen the movie, and would like to share their opinions?

    Not a single mention of the public option. I walked out.

  38. 38
    sb says:

    What movie did Thomas Frank watch?

  39. 39
    sb says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    Not a single mention of the public option. I walked out.

    And you’d like your internet delivered where now.

  40. 40
    Mike in NC says:

    I once actually subscribed to Harpers, but like The Atlantic, it went downhill years ago. Haven’t picked it up in 10+ years.

  41. 41

    @TD:

    Exactly. I take the praise of Team of Rivals (‘extraordinary resilience’ is odd praise) to be the standard ass-kissing that everyone who appears on television seems to engage in with everyone else who appears on television.

  42. 42
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @BGinCHI:

    …Doris Kerns Goodwin, who is the Ryan Seacrest of historians.

    Nah, she’s the Paula Abdul. Ken Burns, with the hair that makes tote-bagggers swoon, is the Seacrest.

  43. 43
    BGinCHI says:

    @Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again): You win the gold medal for Damning With Faint Praise.

    I can’t compete with that.

  44. 44
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @BGinCHI:

    Well, there’s also the fact that both DKG and Abdul are people who’ve done the work in their fields- whether that work is good or not is subjective, and I’ll go with not especially good or, uhm, original- while both Burns and Seacrest are presenters.

  45. 45
    ET says:

    I won’t say it is a perfect movie but I would much rather see a movie actually try and show what was then what we think was. My friend was telling me how someone she new didn’t like the move because she felt Lincoln’s voice was all wrong, thought it should be more deep and statesman-like. That is the the Lincoln we thought existed.

    Lincoln has been such a caricature (in only the best way) that a more truthful – at least as much as can be done with what can be determined – is a breath of fresh air. Frankly despite is imperfections and the less than noble actions/attitudes of the day make the fact that the Union won and that the slaves were free much more amazing.

  46. 46
    Bruce S says:

    I generally like Thomas Frank, but that’s an absurdly self-righteous review. The movie portrays – with at least some degree of accuracy – aspects of history. The 13th Amendment did not have a virgin birth. That’s a fact – as Stevens himself observes. Further, it is extremely unlikely – at best – that the amendment would have passed solely by the efforts and approach of Stevens, et. al. Just as it is unlikely that it would have come to pass without radical abolitionists like Stevens. This is called being able to hold two opposing thoughts in one’s head at the same time, and it’s essential in the real world of politics. There’s a lot to be said for the contributions of both rational idealists and visionary pragmatists in the cause of justice and reform. What generally isn’t helpful is zealotry or compromise for the sake of compromise.

  47. 47
    Mr Stagger Lee says:

    I think Franks was hoping for vampires, pretty sure Alexander Stephens was one

  48. 48
    Roger Moore says:

    @ET:

    My friend was telling me how someone she new didn’t like the move because she felt Lincoln’s voice was all wrong, thought it should be more deep and statesman-like.

    Day-Lewis clearly researched the part very, very well. Every description I’ve heard of Lincoln as a speaker says that he had a kind of twangy Kentucky accent, which is exactly what Day-Lewis gave him. He even did his walk well: slow with his arms held stiffly at his sides rather than swinging.

  49. 49
    ellie says:

    I just saw Lincoln this afternoon! My husband and I loved it.

  50. 50
    Donut says:

    @Machine-Gun Preacher (formerly Ben Franklin):

    Tell me, what is it like to be so perfect and pure, like you?

  51. 51
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @Roger Moore:

    I’ve heard, a couple of times on NPR, an old interview with a man who, iirc, was at Gettysburg for the Address. When this man did his impression of Lincoln it was purposefully not only twangy but also high-pitched.

  52. 52
    Robert says:

    Here’s my full review. I think my first sentence sums up how I feel about the approach to the story:

    My glib, sarcastic response to Lincoln is “How much suspense can you really get out of whether or not congress voted for the 13th Amendment?”

    It’s slick and really well made. The acting is good to excellent. It was a perfectly cromulent story about backroom politics that also wanted to be a flashy biopic.

    It would have been better if it straight up went dirty like Zero Dark Thirty did. We barely see the corruption happen though it’s the driving force of the plot. It’s all alluded to in quick cutaways and hushed conversations. Show us the bribery and extortion. Don’t tell us about it.

    This is the perfect example of “show, don’t tell” in writing. Kushner’s screenplay should just be a stageplay; it’d be Pulitzer worthy on the boards. Onscreen, it’s hit or miss. The good far outweighs the bad but it’s all too glossy and perfect to hit as well as it should.

  53. 53
    Donut says:

    @Roger Moore:

    I grew up in generally the same part of the world as Lincoln. The accent Day-Lewis affects is pretty correct to my ear.

    Lincoln’s family was from Virginia, as well. There is no way he didn’t speak with some degree of Southern twang.

  54. 54
    Tehanu says:

    @ET:

    My friend was telling me how someone she knew didn’t like the move because she felt Lincoln’s voice was all wrong, thought it should be more deep and statesman-like.

    I (vaguely) recall reading, 30 or 40 years ago, that Lincoln’s voice was notably high-pitched and that it actually helped him as an orator since this was before microphones. It’s not like Daniel Day Lewis made it up out of whole cloth. But your friend’s acquaintance is obviously of the “Print the legend” school of thought.

  55. 55
    Roger Moore says:

    @Robert:
    I agree that the biggest problem with the movie is that it can’t decide whether to be a biopic or a political movie. But I’d go the opposite direction from you. The title says it’s supposed to be about Lincoln, so it spends too much time on the backroom skulduggery and Thaddeus Stephens and not enough on Lincoln.

    Also, IMO, it suffered because Kushner wasn’t willing to commit to any view about what kind of person Lincoln was. Most of the other characters were made a bit two dimensional so that they’d play as foils for Lincoln, but that also gives you some feel for what Kushner’s view of their essential character traits. In contrast, Lincoln seems to spend the whole movie reacting to what everyone else is doing rather than doing things of his own volition. It leaves the central character, the guy the movie is supposed to be a character study of, as a cipher to the end. I think this is because Kushner was afraid to commit to his own interpretation of who Lincoln really was, which is the core of his job as a writer.

  56. 56
    Robert says:

    @Roger Moore: I actually agree with you a lot. When I review a film, I look at what works best. For me, the biopic was a total miss. That’s why I would have preferred a harder look at the political stuff. The fight for votes is what grabbed my attention. My favorite scene is when Lincoln himself first campaigns for votes by asking that farmer couple what they think of ending slavery.

    But the film is called Lincoln and that presents a problem. I’m willing to argue that the 13th Amendment and Lincoln are synonymous in the context of the film (that’s the kind of thing Kushner likes to do onstage, just look at Caroline, or Change where a house maid in the 1960s literally talks to the washer, the dryer, and the moon for guidance) but even then he’s too far removed from his own campaign. It’s like Lincoln, the man, exists on a separate plane of existence from Lincoln, the president, and even Lincoln, the movie.

    I scored the film so high because even I was sitting in the theater counting votes at the final roll call and wondering what would happen. Spielberg pulled me out of my own cynicism. Thank goodness he went with that ridiculous ending and the over the top Mary Todd scenes or I might have had to say more nice things about it. Melodrama did not suit this story well.

  57. 57
    PaulW says:

    You gotta admit you had to be laughing your ass off during the scene where the “lobbyist” played by James Spader tries to buy off a Democrat at an outside saloon table only to have that Democrat silently pull out a gun and try to shoot the lobbyist. And as a subtle post-modern comment on today’s firearms, watching as the lobbyist hurries to gather up his papers while the congressman tries to reload his single-shot pistol. That also earns this film an Oscar for Best Political Commentary.

  58. 58
    PaulW says:

    @Robert:

    This movie is about Lincoln even as the struggle is over the passage of the 13th Amendment. It’s about the decisions he has to make during a great and terrible war – best exemplified when he’s at his secretaries’ bedside filling out pardons for 16-year-old boys who got panicked in battle. Or the scene at the telegraph War office, where he’s making up his mind about what to do with the Southern peace committee, discussing things that are “self-evident” and figuring out the mathematics of where he fitted in history.

    But all good biographies are not about the person alone… the good biographies show how others around that person are changed, for good or ill.

  59. 59
    PaulW says:

    @Donut:

    Kentucky. Lincoln was born in Kentucky and spent some childhood years there, before he picked up an axe and did battle with vampires.

    …wait, other movie…

  60. 60
    Maude says:

    @Roger Moore:
    It’s possible that Kushner didn’t understand Lincoln. Lincoln was complex.

  61. 61
    Steeplejack says:

    @Raven:

    I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild in the theater, and I had some problems with it. It’s a noble indie effort, definitely worth seeing, but it has a wince-inducing whiff of “New York liberal wunderkinder discovers that the South is different.” The acting is good, and the cinematography is good in a rough, low-down way. But the script is a little pompous and self-congratulatory. The movie feels more leaden than, say, Black Orpheus, another film made by white people about poor black people told through the lens of mythology.

  62. 62
    dmbeaster says:

    The movie is great and as close to verisimilitude as anything you will see on the subject. It is both very good history and a good movie. I thought Day-Lewis was terrific, and so was Sally Field. Everything about the movie seems to be faithful to a the historical sense of the time – right down to the gloomy interior sets from fires, candles and the dim natural winter lighting.

  63. 63
    dmbeaster says:

    @Robert:

    Thank goodness he went with that ridiculous ending and the over the top Mary Todd scenes or I might have had to say more nice things about it.

    Everything about those “over the top scenes” match our best understanding of character and events for Mary Todd Lincoln. I don’t mean to pick on you, and I can understand how it plays like melodrama, but that is exactly who and what she was. I thought it a remarkable depiction as true to everything I have ever read about their lives, and all the more fascinating because it was such a remarkable depiction of what is known.

  64. 64
    Librarian says:

    What bothered me about Lincoln was inaccuracies such as having Mary Lincoln watch from the House gallery as it debated and voted on the amendment, which I am almost certain didn’t happen; some of the exposition, and some of the dialogue which Kushner put in the character’s mouths, which had me rolling my eyes, and the ridiculous opening scene with the soldiers reciting the Gettysburg Address at Lincoln. It’s a movie, not a documentary or a scholarly monograph, and those who see it must realize that. Of course a lot of the scenes were invented for dramatic effect. Some of the exposition was very good, like the cabinet meeting scene when Lincoln explained the constitutional complexities of abolishing slavery. By and large, it is as good a movie on the subject that you will get from todays Hollywood.

  65. 65
    policomic says:

    I’m a fan of Thomas Frank, but he’s completely full of shit on this. The message is not that “idealists must learn to lie and to keep their mouths shut,” but that polititicians must occasionally do so, if it means the difference between accomplishing something and accomplishing nothing. As to the corruption, this was the era of patronage, and anyone who has read anything about Lincoln, or 19th century American politics would understand that.

    Also, he’s not the first lefty critic I’ve seen talk about how horribly Stevens (and by extension, all radicals and idealists) is served by the film, but having actually seen the film myself, I really don’t know what they’re talking about. Stevens is depicted as cantankerous, difficult, and eccentric, all of which he was. But he’s never shown as a fool or a villain, and his struggle with his conscience is depicted quite sympathetically.

    The movie has its flaws, I suppose, but it’s practically the only purportedly “political” movie I can remember seeing that’s actually about the political process (as opposed to some insane conspiracy, or the selling of the candidate on the campaign trail), and is neither unrealistically idealistic nor unrealistically cynical. That’s an accomplishment, as far as I’m concerned.

  66. 66
    Robert says:

    @dmbeaster: I know it’s realistic. It’s just such a disconnect from the rest of the film. Mary Todd is important and, sadly, she did suffer greatly due to the loss of her son. Spielberg really wallowed in the misery of her life and I don’t know if that was necessary to linger so long on her crying or falling to the floor again and again for this story. Once could have been enough. The imagery with the younger son obsessing over the slave auction slides also felt a bit heavy-handed.

    It feels like Spielberg pushed the private family scenes to an extreme to give Lincoln himself more weight in the story. I’m not sold on that since he also decided to have Daniel Day-Lewis play every storytelling scene the exact same way. His Lincoln is a reactive force in his family and a proactive but detached force in the government. If it’s Lincoln’s story, he should play a bigger role in the family scenes than silent observer. If it’s not really Lincoln’s story, the private family scenes shouldn’t weigh so heavily on the narrative.

    I hate to even bring it up, but Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter covered the same material with Mary Todd and opted not to go into melodrama. You could still clearly tell how the loss of the child destroyed Lincoln’s wife without throwing herself to the ground in a display that makes Bette Davis look like Kristen Stewart.

  67. 67
    Maude says:

    @Robert:
    Spielberg does sappy and it it always over the top.

  68. 68
    cmorenc says:

    I generally like Thomas Frank, but his take on Lincoln is frankly full of self-righteous crap. He *completely* misses one of the key messages of the movie, which is how precariously close United States history came to taking a dramatically different course regarding the constitutional status of slavery, and how dauntingly difficult it was for Lincoln to pull off accomplishing passage of the 13th Amendment against the prevailing racist hostility and skepticism of a majority in congress more interested in achieving the quickest successful end to the war practically possible. He’s apparently forgotten that the equally critical fourteenth (equal protection, due process, birthright citizenship) and fifteenth (right to vote) did not come until three and five years respectively *after* passage of the 13th Amendment, the passage of which was a critical prerequisite to the other two. Does Frank have a problem also with some of LBJ’s skulduggery and devious maneuvering to get the great civil rights legislation past the powerful block of segregationist southern Senators draped with seniority during a time when clothure required a 2/3 vote to defeat a filibuster, or powerful chairmen could bottle up legislation they were hostile to? The message of Lincoln is that he was equally adept at doing what he needed to do to cajole, pressure, or out-maneuver folks to accomplish his ends, but with a much more pleasantly genial, humorous manner. Does Frank think Spielburg made up the part about Stevens carefully parsing his words during house debate on the amendment?

    Thomas is frankly being the equivalent of a firebagger toward Spielburg’s Lincoln because Spielburg’s portrayal of Lincoln and Stevens aren’t of such pure, consistently noble, ideal characters as some would prefer they had been. Some future version of Frank will complain about a screenplay of Obama’s presidency because of the impurities portrayed.

  69. 69
    cckids says:

    @TD: Myself, I like Gore Vidal’s “Lincoln”. Not entirely accurate, I’m sure, but it gives the flavor of the times & the man like few historically accurate tomes would do. A fun read, makes you want to look up the actual facts. Which, to me, is great praise for a history novel.

  70. 70
    Whispers says:

    So, really, there are people like Thomas Frank who think it’d be better to allow the Thirteenth Amendment to fail to pass through Congress than it would be to appoint some outgoing Congressmen to some patronage positions in the Federal government?

    I’m sorry, but this attitude can only stand as myopic delusion.

    Any comparison between Lincoln’s goals and the goals of any recent Presidential administration (either Obama or Bush) is inapt – at least the ones I’ve heard. Making dramatic and corrupt concessions to stop slavery in the United States is just not at the same level as making dramatic and corrupt concessions to pass health care legislation, or to spy on Americans, or whatever equivalence people use these days.

  71. 71
    Whispers says:

    @cmorenc:

    “Thomas is frankly being the equivalent of a firebagger toward Spielburg’s Lincoln …”

    Yeah, um, Obama hasn’t done anything during his administration that carries with it the moral stature of Lincoln’s efforts to end slavery.

  72. 72
    dmbeaster says:

    @Robert: What Maude said about Speilberg and over the top.

    From what I know from reading Lincoln biographies, Mary Todd Lincoln and her condition was a huge factor in Lincoln’s life, so it makes sense to portray it in the story.

    I saw the movie more about Lincoln and his character as opposed to the passage of the 13th amendment, which just serves as a dramatic device for telling the story, but there are so many other compelling episodes in his life that could fill the bill. So I did not see the family scenes (Mary as well as the drama involving his son’s desire to enlist) as outside the narrative.

  73. 73
    Chris says:

    @Robert:

    Regardless of what the film was called, I’m really happy that they did a movie that focused mostly on his impact on the world more than his personal life. It killed me when the movies about Thatcher and Hoover spent so much time on their personal lives, which I frankly couldn’t care less about. These people’s chief impact on the world isn’t how they treated their significant others, for crying out loud.

  74. 74
    RaflW says:

    What cmorenc: @cmorenc said.

    And, also I was very surprised when the movie ended.

    No, not because of the scenery chewing, but that 2.5 hours had passed and I remained 99% enthralled.

  75. 75
    Ronzoni Rigatoni says:

    What impressed me the most were the legal arguments Lincoln made in re the absolute necessity for an amendment rather than mere legislative action, and the time constraints in getting it passed NOW, before a new Congress was sworn in. I’ve read a lot on the period and have never heard it explained as succinctly as was done in the movie. Very much worth seeing, and with subtitles (h/t Raven) if possible.

    The movie makers did a helluva job here, and what imperfections existed were for the most part irrelevant.

  76. 76
    Or something like that.Suffern Ace says:

    I left the theater thinking I would not want to work for Lincoln. He would have been very frustrating to work for. Not because he would have been the asshole type of boss, but because he was very purposefully not clear on what his position was and therefore was not exercising power in a straightforward manner. How can you be a yes an when the boss just tells stories and jokes?

    I joked about the rise garden moment and the great speech above because I also thought the movie was a nice middle finger to our punditry who at the time I saw it was calling for Obama to extend the olive branch to the business community and have a rose garden summit with CEOs. Or play a round of golf with Boehner. Did Lincoln do any of that? Well no. Yet he got what he wanted anyway. His one rose garden moment was portrayed as kind of a disaster with Steohens and Mary fighting over the household budget. As for the bully pulpit…Lincoln does not give much of a speech in the film while the debate is going on. His most famous speech is given by other people. The speech he gives during the time period of the debate is some kind of two line peon to the flag that the audience can barely bring themselves to clap for. And the big second inaugural is given after the action is over and really is skipped through so we can get to the assassination and end the film. I don’t think Lincoln made a very persuasive case to the people. I was glad they didn’t make him into the master speechifyer and that’s why he was a great leader! They seem to be saying that those things aren’t important.

    What I didn’t like about the film was the way the assassination was handled. It was done in a very Spielberg way and set up to…crap, I don’t know what it was set up to do. But it is a gimmick that we have seen before.

  77. 77
    Ronzoni Rigatoni says:

    What impressed me the most were the legal arguments Lincoln made in re the absolute necessity for an amendment rather than mere legislative action, and the time constraints in getting it passed NOW, before a new Congress was sworn in. I’ve read a lot on the period and have never heard it explained as succinctly as was done in the movie. Very much worth seeing, and with subtitles (h/t Raven) if possible.

  78. 78
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @cmorenc: It sounds to me like Frank is doing this: taking the Kushner statements about Lincoln being like Obama and vice versa, then looking for aspects of the movie that can be read as hippie-punching by proxy, then complaining about how Tony Kushner is engaging in hippie-punching.

  79. 79
    Origuy says:

    @sb:

    What movie did Thomas Frank watch?

    Not the one he wanted to see made. A lot of critics want to watch a different movie than the one the director wanted.

  80. 80
    Freemark says:

    Haven’t seen ”Lincoln” yet, but I will say I want the ugly sausage making included.
    .
    On a related note I’m finally getting to watch ”West Wing”. The sanitized and idealized sausage making TV show which I greatly enjoy. But I just got to the ”Mr. Smith goes to Washington” episode and I cringed all the way through even though it was a nice fictional story.

    It was about a Democratic President going through his first filibuster in his third year in office. One which they portray a Democratic senator needing to stand and talk the whole time. It almost hurt to watch it.

  81. 81
    Marc says:

    @policomic:

    Also, he’s not the first lefty critic I’ve seen talk about how horribly Stevens (and by extension, all radicals and idealists) is served by the film, but having actually seen the film myself, I really don’t know what they’re talking about. Stevens is depicted as cantankerous, difficult, and eccentric, all of which he was. But he’s never shown as a fool or a villain, and his struggle with his conscience is depicted quite sympathetically.

    And he wins in the end. He achieves his goal and millions of people are emancipated, through means Thomas Frank cannot abide because it means some county in Ohio will have a less than fully qualified tax collector.

    I like his writing, but it’s a shame to see him go full firebagger. The Harper’s column has not been good for him.

    The movie has its flaws, I suppose, but it’s practically the only purportedly “political” movie I can remember seeing that’s actually about the political process (as opposed to some insane conspiracy, or the selling of the candidate on the campaign trail), and is neither unrealistically idealistic nor unrealistically cynical.

    Milk was also good about this. It’s a movie about the hard work of politics, of bouncing back from losses and grinding out wins and organizing allies one election at a time.

  82. 82
    Marc says:

    @Whispers:

    Yeah, um, Obama hasn’t done anything during his administration that carries with it the moral stature of Lincoln’s efforts to end slavery.

    That’s probably because Lincoln already ended slavery.

  83. 83
    Ash Can says:

    Note to Anne Laurie: Harper’s may very well be worth its $17 annual subscription, but you’ll have a hard time convincing us of that when the citation you proceed to offer from it is a load of crap.

  84. 84
    dmbeaster says:

    @Or something like that.Suffern Ace:

    Not because he would have been the asshole type of boss, but because he was very purposefully not clear on what his position was and therefore was not exercising power in a straightforward manner.

    He did this constantly and was loathed at the time for it by many. I thought the film did an excellent job portraying his famous indecision about making a decision. What is so remarkable is that there could be such clarity of vision in someone who otherwise acted indecisively. Maybe its a paradox, but I think it reflects a careful plodding in a time of massive uncertainty as to just what needed to be done, even if you had a big picture sense of it.

    The nonstop backing and filling about the Southern peace delegation, and the contradictory positions given to everybody about that in the film, was pure Lincoln. In the end, he made the right choices to make it all work, but getting there was another story. My own belief is that this is a far more realistic depiction of how all great decisions and struggles are actually made and fought. IN hindsight, it always seems so clear, but that is just not how it works in reality while on the path to get there.

  85. 85
    l says:

    Hm, probably get around to watching it. I’ve been turned off Speilberg’s “serious” movies simply by the ones I’ve already seen: Shindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. The former was so clearly made to get an Oscar that it was irritating. The later was simply made up of scenes from old war movies.

    The problem is that people seem to be insisting (although not here) that this is a kind of a lesson for Obama and he should take it to heart. Oh well.

    Back to re-read Richard Hofstadter’s essay on the importance of radicals in American politics.

  86. 86
    Napoleon says:

    Interesting historical tidbit, in light of all of Frank’s pearl clutching that Lincoln’s administration is depicted as trading patronage jobs for votes.

    Among the Democratic opponents that the film shows outmaneuvered (correctly so) is George Pendleton from Ohio (see second link below to picture of character from the film). Interestingly in real life he is best known for the legislation at the first link.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P.....Reform_Act

    http://www.fandango.com/peterm.....tos/p48060

  87. 87
    Skip Intro says:

    They buy votes outright with promises of patronage jobs and (it is strongly suggested) cash bribes. The noblest law imaginable is put over by the most degraded means.

    In other words, it’s a fairly accurate portrayal of mid-19th century politics. How dare anyone interrupt the hagiography!

  88. 88
    Tom says:

    Just because Frank had the audacity to point out the truth about the political corruption of the civil war era and its depiction in the motion picture hardly makes him “nuts.”

  89. 89
    Visceral says:

    @Xantar:

    Slightly off topic: when will critics figure out that just because a movie (or any other work of narrative art) portrays something that it doesn’t mean it endorses that very thing?

    Because good critics are smart enough not to analyze a movie in a vacuum, as if detached and savvy people like them the only ones watching, and then seeing it more as a technical and/or aesthetic exercise than something people are supposed to get a message from.

    I keep thinking of Francois Truffaut arguing that you cannot make a truly anti-war film, because war will inevitably look cool on screen. Re-read Thomas Frank’s opinion about the portrayal of the lobbyists as fun-loving frat boys, complete with hoedown theme music; the issue is not so much what they’re doing as how it’s presented … and whether or not it can be presented as anything other than powerful men with few inhibitions exercising their power in a way that certainly looks a whole lot more fun than Lincoln’s solemn angst and Steven’s impotent idealism. The first season of Mad Men comes to mind.

    There’s a reason why in the past the usual response to something heinous or shameful was to bury it under six feet of silence. Putting the bad stuff and the bad people up on a pedestal and making a spectacle of them seems backwards in a way. When the difference between praise and condemnation is merely one of intent (rather than action), it’s not hard to imagine people getting confused, or at least blase.

  90. 90
    Pat says:

    I think the story of the 13th amendment Is important enough, and not generally known enough have, to have been told without the biography that we already know. And here the biography descends into melodrama and schmaltz. For instance, when the manservant turns back to watch With a worried expression as Lincoln leaves for the play. Yeesh.

    A tightly focussed telling of the amendment’s passage and it’s importance would have made this a more compelling movie.

  91. 91
    nastybrutishntall says:

    Just saw Lincoln yesterday, and had read Franks’ review prior, knowing he’d be 1000% wrong. TF exhibits that tiresome combination of cynicism and naivete you see in committed Lefties, who have never met a legislative victory they couldn’t detest for dragging their ideals out screaming from the realm of pure forms and tossing them into the base mud of this sad sad fallen world.

    “Sure they ended slavery, but look at the penmanship on the bill! Totally rushed! they destroyed it! Typical!”

  92. 92
    kcr says:

    I am reminded of a line from another movie — 1776. In it, Franklin and Adams are arguing about whether or not they let the presence of passages condemning slavery sink the passage of the Declaration. Adams tells Franklin that if they allow the passages to be removed, history will hate the for it. Franklin says something like “And will history think we were demi-gods? We are men; no more, no less, trying to create a new nation under conditions more generous God would not have allowed.”

    The Declaration of Independence has largely inspired good in people, so Franklin was right. But the presence of slavery has warped and poisoned this country to this day, so Adams was right.

    Frank’s point, to me, is that a movie is told in a context. And in today’s context, the glorification of compromise is bad, because this is not the time for that. Compromise is needed; but you don’t want to compromise more than you have to. I think that Stevens is portrayed as a hero in the film, and certainly more enlightened than Lincoln, but the film doesn’t do much to point out that Lincoln could have gotten to the 13th only because of the work people like Stevens and African Americans did to lay the groundwork.

    For the record, I really liked the movie. It has a lot of strengths, even if it is a Spielberg movie, and I am glad I saw it. But Kushner has a point of view, and that point of view appears not to be “compromise is a necessary evil” but rather that “compromise is always good”. You can see it in the treatment of the lobbyists and the apparent agreement with the Southern peace delegation that the Jim Crow era comes about because the North took too much away from Southern white men. Kushner is wrong about that; not sure why that is so controversial.

  93. 93
    Napoleon says:

    And in today’s context, the glorification of compromise is bad,

    Maybe, but funny thing, Stevens and Lincoln never compromise, nor even offer to compromise, in the film. They trim their words, but never waiver from the maximalist position that the slaves, all of them, must go free “for all time”.

    You can see it in the treatment of the lobbyists and the apparent agreement with the Southern peace delegation that the Jim Crow era comes about because the North took too much away from Southern white men. Kushner is wrong about that; not sure why that is so controversial.

    The lobbyist had nothing to do with compromise, it was all strong arms and buying people off, not altering the proposal on the table, and as to the Southern delegation the movie depicts Lincoln as bobbing and weaving on them until he is finally in a position that when he meets them the legislation is out of the House and Senate and he is able to tell them “Slavery is done” (after they raise the possibly they could try to stop him in the states and he runs through the math that they are going to loose). That scene all but has Lincoln telling them to F-Off then mooning them.

    The movie shows the Lincoln/Stevens axis switching up tactics, but never compromising on the goal (something explicitly covered in the Stevens/Lincoln kitchen scene).

    Franks’ review is 100% out to lunch.

  94. 94
    jimbo123 says:

    Personally, I live for the day one of the usual suspects, typically drawing the WRONG lesson from history, tries to open his yap on the floor of the House and call the President something along the lines of “King Barack the First, Africanus”, as the smarmy Copperhead prick addresses Lincoln in the film. Just for the lulz.

    What struck me more than the attempts to suborn Democrats was the way in which REPUBLICANS were portrayed as being more afraid of the Cabinet than of their own constituents. Compare and contrast with the current Administration’s handling of the Blue Dogs. Nor does one have to go all the way back to Lincoln. Can you imagine Roosevelt or Johnson diluting their program or conceding policy to the opposition because they couldn’t count on the vote of Rep. Mumble from Mumbleville?

    While I liked this film, it still isn’t a patch on my all-time favorite political film, In The Loop, where British foreign and domestic policy is enforced by the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, a psychopathic Glaswegian pitbull. For some reason, I had the impression Rahm Emmanuel was supposed to fill that function in Obama’s first term. Too bad he preferred to spend his time punching hippies.

  95. 95
    Donald says:

    I haven’t seen Zero Dark Thirty or LIncoln and have little interest in either. But I think it’s a mistake taking them seriously as some sort of history lesson. There’s enough trouble getting people to agree on the facts as depicted in non-fiction works of history/journalism and when you throw in the desire to entertain or send a message or both, it’s almost a miracle if any movie really gets something right. What depresses me about ZDT is that I suspect there are going to be millions of people whose opinions of torture and whether it was necessary will be influenced by it one way or another.

    That said, that movie about Cambodia based on Sydney Schanberg and Dith Pran’s experiences probably did it better than most. (I forget the name). But having read the review by Jane Mayer of ZDT, I don’t think the same could be said of it. As for Lincoln, only an idiot would draw too many conclusions about what happened then and how it should be applied to today, though apparently that’s what Kushner had in mind.

  96. 96
    kcr says:

    @Napoleon:

    I disagree. Stevens is forced to back down from his true position of equality for African Americans. That is what the scene in the outside the Congressional Chamber between Stevens and another Radical after Stevens has publicly abandoned equality, is about. Lincoln doesn’t,that is true, but that’s because he does not support complete equality.

    I took a different meaning from the Southern delegation conversation. He listens and nods his head sadly when the Southern VP says that this will end badly if southern whites are asked to give too much. And the film ends with the “malice towards none” speech, deliberately after Lincoln’s assasination. That seems to be a pretty clear endorsement of the “big bad radicals” theory of Jim Crow.

    So while Frank may not be 100% on, I think he has a point about how the Radicals vs Lincoln argument is portrayed.

  97. 97
    centerfielddj says:

    @Chris:

    Yeah, you’re absolutely right in your summaries here. What’s the matter with Frank?

    I also felt that the early soliliquy by Lewis/Lincoln laying out the limited utility of the Emancipation Proclamation was a real achievement by Kushner. The way he looks at the circumstances are fascinating and persuading.

  98. 98
    centerfielddj says:

    @Roger Moore:

    I don’t agree with your conclusion. There are plentiful opportunities to glimpse Kushner taking strong positions on Lincoln’s character. Among them:

    – the anguished colors of the ways he deals with his wife’s bewildering mix of intelligence, loyalty and deep self-pity and grief

    – the out-of-nowhere slap of his son’s face, retrospectively brought on by a wide range of causes which reveal themselves upon second thoughts

    – daring to depict Abraham as a know-little cipher when it comes to his feelings about blacks, and what will become of them after the War and Amendment. Gutsy, I thought.

    – Lincoln’s table-pounding near the end, as he drives everyone’s efforts home on the eve of the Amendment vote. “…clothed in immense power…”- very specific feelings that Kushner wanted to express about Lincoln’s internal world at that moment are revealed by the carefully chosen, rageful words.

  99. 99
    centerfielddj says:

    @Robert:

    Don’t you see how in their big scenes together Abraham is trying to bend Mary’s overwhelming self-concern and grief, and his righteous anger when she claims that he doesn’t care enough about their family to grieve as she does? He explains it all, and is far from a cipher there.

    I guess you could call him “reactive”, but holy moly, his job is keeping him awfully busy and the war is requiring him to bury many of his feelings about young people dying- he can’t keep on directing the indispensible effort if he caves into his grief for even a brief time. The scene puts you in the middle of his terrible circumstance.

  100. 100
    rmgosselin says:

    Is it true that “Spielberg & Co. have gone out of their way to vindicate political corruption,” or have they shown what is actually required to get things done? It would be lovely–and naive–to think that 13th Amendment and other moral acts were achieved through pure means, but we can’t assume that it’s the way things work out. “Lincoln” was effective precisely because it displayed moral ambiguity.

  101. 101
    centerfielddj says:

    @kcr:

    It’s like we watched different films. My film depicts Stevens’ strategic withholding on the House floor of his own moral views about what should happen for the freed blacks as important in service of gaining passage of the 13th, but immaterial to the actual wording of the Amendment itself. When his fellow radical complains about his moral betrayal afterwards, the film backs Stephens hard when he says, in essence, “I would say anything to free the slaves- wouldn’t you?”

    Lincoln rides though particularly massive piles of war dead on the way to sign the treaty; the film makes clear to me that this is a chief reason he wishes to draw short post-war “malice”. “Each of us has made it possible for the other to do terrible things,” he tells Grant. This view isn’t depicted as being caused by Lincoln holding true moral sympathy for the Conferates’ collective plight; he’s shown as sick of war and opposed to seeking post-war revenge. Depicting the film as endorsing Jim Crow, even passively, is not true to my view.

  102. 102
    Skip Intro says:

    @centerfielddj:

    I also felt that the early soliliquy by Lewis/Lincoln laying out the limited utility of the Emancipation Proclamation was a real achievement by Kushner. The way he looks at the circumstances are fascinating and persuading.

    Yes. That scene really could be shown in any course on politics to nail exactly how contingent most political decisions are.

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