This wasn’t a movie I wanted to see. I don’t like biographical moves; I’d rather watch a documentary about a person’s life. Also, I teased M – we already know he dies in the end. (If you consider that a spoiler, the education system has failed you.) Plus, at over two hours long, I expected boredom to creep in at the halfway mark.
I’m very happy to report that I couldn’t have been more wrong. This was a Steven Spielberg film, so I should have had more faith in it going in. Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln was great, but Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln was awesome. Their interaction as a married couple could have been it’s own film.
Based on Team Of Rivals: the Political Genius Of Abraham Lincoln, the film doesn’t cover the President’s entire life. The focus is on the passage of the 13th amendment–the constitutional amendment that abolished slavery. The political aspect was riveting and provided real edge-of-the-seat type suspense. Lincoln had to walk a tightrope between ending The Civil War and ending slavery. Even though I knew that the 13th amendment would pass–seriously, the US would look a lot different today if it hadn’t–for a moment I found myself worrying if the President would get enough votes.
Also, the movie gets points for making it clear why the 13th amendment was necessary even after the Emancipation Proclamation.
While the film does show the horrors of the civil war, it stays away in large part from the horrors of slavery. Lincoln’s youngest son looks at pictures of slaves throughout the movie (like this one) and at one point–almost as an aside–a woman briefly mentions having been whipped once herself. This NY Times article feels that the narrow focus of the film gives the impression that blacks weren’t involved in the struggle for freedom outside of fighting for the Union Army.
Though based on a work of nonfiction, it’s important to remember that Lincoln is a film and not a documentary. There are plenty of embellishments and omissions–according to historians. Historical movies, even inspirational ones, shouldn’t been seen as shortcuts to learning actual history.