Abraham Lincoln. We've learned about him since grade school, he of the stovepipe hat and curious beard that eschews the customary mustache customarily worn with such whiskers. Honest Abe. The Rail Splitter. The man who, as a little boy, wrote his lessons on a shaved board by candle light and walked several miles to return a penny to a storekeeper that had undercharged him. The politician, who grew a beard to cover up his homeliness. Father Abraham, who brought about the Jubilee and freed the slaves, once and for all.
Abraham Lincoln, the man about whom Steven Spielberg has finally made the definitive movie, revealing to the world the true Lincoln, warts and all.
Or has he.
I looked forward to seeing Spielberg's "Lincoln" and put it off for a long time. I wanted to be rested and ready to embrace the complex ideology that I was certain Spielberg would interweave throughout the drama. I enjoyed the movie. I did. I am glad I went to see it. I thought the acting, particularly that of the male and female leads, Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Field was outstanding. Who would ever have thought that the Flying Nunn would grow up to be First Lady of the United States -- and a psychic to boot!
Lewis was so good that a third of the way into the movie I almost began to believe that I was actually watching Abraham Lincoln instead of a Hollywood actor -- and if Steven Spielberg hadn't insisted on putting the foulest of language into Lincoln's mouth during circumstances that would not have elicited such modern-day profanity, the illusion might have gone further. Joe Biden might toss out an F-bomb at a random moment, but I honestly don't believe that word was a part of Lincoln's lexicon. I can't see him exclaiming GD so casually, either.
I am not saying that Lincoln never uttered profanities, but not to the extent as the character in the movie. In fact, he was known to chastise subordinates who used such language in his presence.
That aside, Lewis was very believable as Lincoln, as was Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, the president's wife. Their troubled marriage, the death of their child and his and her eccentricities were handled in what most would consider an authentic and accurate manner as well.
The scenery, costumes and sets were -- well, they were Spielbergish, which is about as big a compliment as I can pay, and if you want to watch "Lincoln" from a purely artistic perspective, then go yesterday. It is a must-see movie.
Honesty compels me to admit, however, that I would have enjoyed Lincoln a lot more if I hadn't spent so much of my life studying the history of our great nation, particularly the period of the recent unpleasantness between the North and the South. Therein, as the fellow said, lies the rub.
First of all, the movie should not have been titled "Lincoln." It should have been titled "In Search of the 13th Amendment," for the film dealt almost exclusively with the period between Jan. 1 and Jan. 31, during which Lincoln was waging his own personal war with vying factions of the Republican party and the Northern Democrats who retained their seats in Congress with the Southern Congressional Caucus went home. There was so much more to the great man -- and make no mistake about it -- Lincoln was a great man. He saved the Union -- which is a feat for which many of my unreconstructed Southern friends have not forgiven him.
I have -- and recognize his greatness and his contribution to history. It is a shame that more of his earlier battles to keep the war going until the Union army could outlast General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia were not shown or even alluded to in the film. Because virtually nothing was shown about Lincoln at the beginning of the war, nothing is learned by the average movie-goer about the evolution of Lincoln's position in 1861 -- "I aim to save the Union. If I can do it by freeing all of the slaves, I will do that. If I can do it without freeing any slaves, I will do that. If I can do it by freeing half the slaves and keeping half in chains, I will do that." -- to his position at the end of the war -- States must ratify the 13th amendment to be readmitted to the Union.
The portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens stuck in my craw, too. He was a mean, vile man who hated the South and dedicated his post-war life to punishing and demeaning the Southern citizenry for declaring and fighting for -- albeit unsuccessfully -- their independence. He was diametrically opposed to Lincoln's liberal plan for reconciliation after the war and none of his vileness was portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones -- my favorite actor among the whole cast.
So, was Lincoln the benevolent ideologist who wanted equality for all and would go to any political length to achieve it, or was he a crafty politician with little regard for the Constitution who would do anything necessary to achieve his own agenda for the sake of maintaining power? Whenever there are two extremes, the truth generally lies somewhere in the middle.
Did Spielberg make a fine Hollywood movie? Absolutely. Did he knock the ball out of the park and hit a grand slam?
I'd say a ground rule double. Much closer to a ground rule double.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.