By: Anita Alem
We’ve all heard, learned, and memorized the story: Abraham Lincoln unified a broken nation with the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet, our history books cannot have the same impact that Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln does. In two and a half hours, the viewer gains an appreciation of our sixteenth president, and the insurmountable odds he overcame to pass an historic piece of legislation.
Lincoln begins at the end. It is the last year of the Civil War, and Lincoln is at his wit’s end. The Thirteenth Amendment has passed through the House of Representatives, and now the Senate must pass it. Ironically, even though the Republicans have control, they are split amongst themselves, and the viewer can’t help but draw parallels to today’s split politics. There are two groups of Republicans: the overly progressive, such as Thaddeus Stevens, and the unsure, who don’t know if it’s the right time to put an end to slavery. The movie depicts the struggle Lincoln undergoes to pass the amendment, and how the presidency tears his family apart.
Daniel Day-Lewis portrays Lincoln as a soft-spoken, but firm, beloved storyteller, and does a fantastic job. Everything from his voice to demeanor is spot-on. However, he is outshone by Tommy Lee Jones, who plays Thaddeus Stevens. Jones breathes fire into his role, and portrays the modern ideas that we have today. Stevens, historically, refused to accept simply abolition of slavery, and desired equality in all aspects for African-Americans, while Lincoln wanted to take a much slower approach. Indeed, when Stevens finally does concede, the viewer feels a sense of sadness for morality rather than joy for the Thirteenth Amendment.
The disorganization that is the 19th century United States Senate is astonishing; the senators are rowdy and foul-mouthed, freely accusing not only members of the opposing party, but also their own party members. Lincoln hires lobbyists to bribe senators freely, and James Spader shines as the fantastically distasteful goon Bilbo. Spielberg truly makes the viewer understand the extreme effort that was necessary to change history forever.
Lincoln is not without faults, however. The movie takes a half-hour just to get going, and scenes with African-American soldiers are stereotypical. Indeed, for a movie about milestone legislation for African-Americans, there weren’t very many non-Caucasians. Scenes skipped around from Lincoln’s office to his tumultuous family to grim hospitals – yes, life is messy, but the movie did not have to be.
Spielberg has not created a masterpiece with Lincoln. The film is, however, a fitting tribute to America itself, not just the man who changed the world forever. In these times of great political turmoil, we can bask in the moment when we came together as a people to improve the country, and only hope that we may continue to succeed. In Lincoln, a man falls, but a nation rises.