Friday, March 1, 2013

The movie "LINCOLN"

2/13/13 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Thanks to  Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster movie “Lincoln,”, there has been a huge resurgence of interest in Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States. Lincoln was born 204 years ago on Feb. 12. Although that was a long time ago, the story of his life and service to our country as played out on the screen, are still fresh and relevant.

As the lights go down, the movie draws you into the life of our country’s most beloved president. Each scene feels so historically accurate that you seem to be an eye-witness to history. In fact, the movie is based on the 994 page book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The 2-1/2 hour long movie moves at a fast clip so there’s no time to doze off between scenes.

The film is perfectly cast. Daniel Day Lewis, an English actor, was cast as Lincoln. And the moment he appears on the screen there is no doubt—he is Lincoln. He is tall, well-spoken and haunted by the horrible war he has drawn the country into—driven by the need to abolish slavery. And he is not above playing the political game to get the job done. Even if that includes stretching the truth about the whereabouts of the Southern peacekeepers or buying votes with political favors to get the Thirteenth Amendment passed.

Sally Fields does a magnificent job as Mary Lincoln. She takes Mrs. Lincoln’s reputation as a raging maniac into the realms of reality. She is real—not a caricature. She mourns the deaths of her sons, answers the critics of her spending habits and confronts her husband with his aloofness in such a manner that the source of her so-called craziness is understandable.

Tommy Lee Jones is riveting as the nasty, radical Republican Congressman Thaddeus Stevens. An ardent abolitionist, he was feared and hated by opponents on both sides of the aisle as he fought for abolition. He and Lincoln were on the same side but had diametrically different ways getting to their goal.

In the movie, Day-Lewis’ Lincoln is exactly as I pictured him. He is thoroughly human, intelligent and compassionate but calm almost to a fault. He reminds me of other self-educated country boys that I have known. His plain exterior hides a brilliant lawyer’s mind; he has a sense of humor; he appreciates poetry and has a self-sacrificing heart.

The movie covers the final four months of Lincoln’s life. It begins shortly after his second inauguration in 1865 and ends with his assassination in the Ford Theatre. He was 56 years old and the first of four American Presidents to be assassinated.

A look at his life before the presidency (not shown in the movie) gives a glimpse into the person that he became but certainly no hint of future greatness.

He spent his early years in rural Kentucky. Growing up on the frontier, he spent less than 12 months in attending regular classes in school.  He was poorly educated but well read and ambitious. He studied and passed his law exams after running for the state legislature. He is the only president to have a patent. Issued in 1849, the patent was for a devise to free ships that had run aground in shallow water.

There were lots of interesting firsts in his life. He was the first president to be born beyond the original 13 states. He was the first president born in Kentucky. His first dollar was earned ferrying passengers to a steamer on the Ohio River in 1827. He was the first president to sport a full beard. He and Lyndon Johnson tied as tallest presidents—6 ft 4 in. but he was first! 

He had many nicknames. “Honest Abe” is everyone’s favorite but no one knows its origins. I say that it just described the character of the man. Others say that it had to do with his honesty in judging horse races. Still others say that he would charge little or no legal fees when he knew his clients were poor. “The Great Emancipator” refers to his issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and strong support of ending slavery. “Father Abraham” refers to his leadership during the Civil War.

Lincoln and his parents never owned slaves. In fact, his parents joined a Baptist congregation that had separated from another church in opposition to slavery. Other family members owned a few slaves. Mary Todd Lincoln’s father owned several slaves but she was very opposed to the idea. His views against slavery were formed while working on the Mississippi River.

There’s one more thing we know about Lincoln. He and his father were estranged but he loved his mother. It is reported that he said of her, “God bless my mother; all that I am or ever hope to be I owe to her.”

The Civil War (1861-1865) took its toll on the entire country. With the population still divided, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The battle to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the constitution banning slavery was fierce and close. The Senate vote passed easily but the House vote was only accomplished with arm-twisting and promises. Finally, it narrowly reached the 2/3 majority and passed the bill by a vote of 119 to 56. On Feb. 1, 1865, the document was signed.

“Lincoln.” It’s a great movie. It will inspire you to appreciate this country and all those who have served to make it great. Go see it.

 Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

No comments: