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‘Lincoln’

by Kaori Shoji

Lincoln” naysayers on the film’s release in the United States mainly commented on two things: the historical error committed by Steven Spielberg when in a climactic scene the director showed a Connecticut congressman voting against the abolition of slavery; and that everyone’s teeth, including those of the slaves, were splendidly white. I consider it my solemn duty to declare this is no biggie.

Complete and relentless accuracy would not have served “Lincoln” in the least — I mean, do we really want to sit through two and a half hours of watching dental-plan-lacking 19th-century Americans baring molars? Besides, there’s plenty of realism in “Lincoln” to spare — with corpses piled up as high as the tall President Abraham Lincoln when he inspects the carnage on a battlefield. Real enough for you?

Lincoln
Rating
Director Steven Spielberg
Run Time 150 minutes
Language English

“Lincoln” is absorbing, wrenching and whip-smart as it follows the quest of the 16th American president instilling the 13th Amendment to end slavery, amid a bloody internal strife that threatened to cripple the nation forever. Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for his engrossing and almost maniacal performance in the title role, and the picture shows Spielberg in complete command of his particular subgenre that can best be described as History Via Spielberg (along with “Schindler’s List,” “Amistad” and “Saving Private Ryan”).

Here, Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner (working from a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin) portray how the Emancipation Proclamation was as much about depleting the financial resources of the Confederate states as it was about freeing African-American slaves — or perhaps even more so. To end the American Civil War (which was hellishly expensive and damaging), Lincoln needs to unify Congress — but to unify Congress, he needs to get that amendment ratified before the government can officially call it quits.

The cast is resplendent. Sally Field plays Mary Todd Lincoln, who combines an understated shrewishness with genuine concern for her husband and the future of the nation. Mary is also a mother in mourning; she’s lost her eldest son to the war, and her younger son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), also on the battlefield, staunchly refuses special treatment. Lincoln, on the other hand, shows signs of snapping under the weight of war, the emancipation and the ever-feuding Congress. Tommy Lee Jones — Hollywood’s go-to-actor for deep creased lines and granite conviction — is powerhouse abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.

Having worked his way up from being a farm boy, Lincoln was a self-taught, self-made politician with an ingrained mistrust of privilege and unearned wealth. His stoicism was a big part of what propelled the Union Army to victory. At the same time, his tall, stooping figure was emblematic of the hardships and pain suffered by the Confederacy. As Lincoln inches his way toward closure here, the entire film begins to feel like a prayer. We know the outcome of the historical events, but nearly 150 years later, the repercussions aren’t over. After “Lincoln” opened in the U.S., Mississippi became the 50th and final state to instill the 13th amendment. Better late than never, right?

  • Neruson-san

    Gee, thanks for the spoiler.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sakuragi.fumio Sakuragi Fumio

    Sorry for your failing to witness a respect duly incumbent on any head of state because of Japan’s ambivalent attitude to its own counterpart. Admittedly, the audience here has different reactions from the well-documneted, awe-inspiring movie from that on the other side of the Pacific. I have no qualms about Spielberg’s image of Lincoln, an undisputed head of state where history is in motion with steady steps. Any history lover would get overwhelmed knowing at the same time technical details about how the US is constituted by the Book.

    The difference between the Pacific becomes more apparent with Prime Minister Abe’s April 28th just around the corner with the presence of an Emperor. Japanese symbol’s position derives from the will of the people with whom rests sovereign power: a republic. The spoiler was melancholic, I dare to surmise, with her mind on the constitutional disparity between the U.S. and Japan: a gap of a sea.This gave her all the reason to educate her native readers. Her country will nonetheless have a periodic change in constitution three times as many years as takes Ise shrine to remodel its iconic building. She had reasons for spoiling her native concept of head of state, unintended for a US movie’s image. Nor did she have the space to elaborate. Any sensible republic stays as republican for good but the republic here might turn royal or imperial in a worse case scenario unless we kept vigilant against any deprivation of our sovereignty. So watch out after you have left the theater.

  • Stephen Verry

    I look forward to seeing this film. America was fortunate to have a man of Lincoln’s stature at the helm during that tumultuous era. It amazed me to see a computer enhanced picture of Lincoln with intense blue eyes. Equally intense thoughts were churning away under that topper of his, as well.