Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Lincoln (2012)


     So for the month of February, I’m doing something that I should have thought of two years ago: as we approach the Academy Awards on February 24, I’m going to write about a few movies that I think will (or should) get a few nods come Oscar night. I didn’t see a whole lot of movies last year, at least not compared to 2011, but I saw enough good ones that I’d like to write about. With that said, let’s look at the first movie of the month (and probably the winner of the Best Actor award), “Lincoln”, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring a terrific ensemble cast led by Daniel Day-Lewis as the title character.

     I’m going to try in this article to spare you every single political detail, because for one thing, it would take a long time to explain, and for another thing, it would take even longer to fully understand. But the film, rather than a biopic on Abraham Lincoln’s life as a whole, focuses specifically on his presidency in January 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which would abolish slavery, is about to be passed. Lincoln believes that the amendment must be passed before the end of the month so that at the end of the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation cannot be discarded and the amendment rejected by the slave states.

     In order to do this, Lincoln has to get the assurance of all the Republicans, something he needs party founder Francis Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook) to support him on. In return, Blair insists on immediately negotiating peace with the Confederate government. Meanwhile, Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) work on securing the Democratic votes. They do this by targeting the “lame-duck” Democrats—those who will be out of Congress after the new Congress comes in—and offering them new positions while asking for their support.

     Long story short, the end of January arrives, after Thaddeus Stevens (the great Tommy Lee Jones) has changed his view of racial equality slightly to help the amendment’s passage, and after a rumor circulates that the amendment may be proposed but then is dismissed. The amendment is then voted on, passing by only a two-vote margin. Lincoln then meets with the Confederates and tells them the amendment has been passed and utters the line made immortal by the movie trailers: “Shall we stop this bleeding?” About two months later, Ulysses S. Grant (Jared Harris) receives Robert E. Lee’s surrender, ending the war. The film ends, after Lincoln has been pronounced dead after his assassination, with a flashback to Lincoln’s second inaugural address.

      I apologize for generalizing the movie’s plot so much, but trust me, this screenplay (which is brilliant, in my opinion) has a ton of information in it that would take way too long to put in this article. Again, that should give you incentive to see the movie yourself! Anyway, a lot of what I wrote about focuses on the political side. But in the film, we see Lincoln in his personal life as well: as he and his wife Mary Todd (Sally Field) struggle through their relationship, reminiscing the loss of their firstborn years ago, as Lincoln and his son Robert Todd (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) debate his joining the army and fighting in the war himself, and as Lincoln himself ponders his legacy and the repercussions of this decision to abolish slavery.

     There’s a scene near the middle of the movie where Lincoln is speaking to two young representatives, one of whom studied science (I think, I honestly can’t remember), and Lincoln talks to him about the findings of Euclid, the Greek mathematician:

LINCOLN: Euclid's first common notion is this: things which are equal to the same things are equal to each other. That's a rule of mathematical reasoning, and it’s true because it works—has done and always will do. In his book, Euclid says this is self-evident. You see, there it is, even in that two-thousand-year-old book of mechanical law, it is the self-evident truth that things which are equal to the same things are equal to each other.

     There are a few scenes like this, where Lincoln monologues (as opposed to “drones on and on”) about equality, and this one in particular almost moved me to tears. In a year where our president is an African-American sworn in to a second term on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2013, it is amazing to see not only where the United States has come but also what it is still headed towards. This could be good, but it could also mean a lot of hardship. After all, just because Lincoln passed the Thirteenth Amendment doesn’t mean racial equality started immediately—far from it!

     But as a follower of Christ, I am called to love everything and everyone around me, regardless of race, gender, age, or even religious beliefs. But especially for the others around me who follow Christ, I am called to put aside differences and love them as God’s beloved children. The apostle Paul writes about this in Galatians 3: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (3:26-28)

     What an important truth to be reminded of by one of the most important movies of 2012. My prayer for you is that you will remember to see all of those around you as children of God, and that you and I would love them regardless of who or what they might be to the world.

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