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Lincoln and arrested development

November 25, 2012 pm30 7:02 pm

Good movie, Lincoln. Some nice development of his sons’ characters (I spotted the Third Rock kid!). And I’ve usually always liked Sally Field. Not quite Norma Rae, but made Mary Todd Lincoln interesting. And the portrait of Lincoln is rich – story teller, backwoods lawyer, astute politician, caring husband and father – and politically adept at balancing expediency and long term goals, etc, etc.

But Spielberg left Lincoln’s political allies and opponents flat. The motivations of Lincoln are easy to understand – because they are presented completely consonant with our modern US understanding of right and wrong. His motivations are explained, nuanced. But the conservative Republicans, the Radical Republicans, even Seward… they are cardboard cutouts standing in the way of the Great Man.

At least Thaddeus Stevens is partially developed. Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens is my favorite of the “other” characters. You don’t quite get Stevens from the movie. You don’t get that he’s an abolitionist, even. Or that he was a champion of public schools. You don’t get that he was powerful, and feared. But you can figure out that there’s something complicated there, something special.

You thought Daniel Day Lewis looked a lot like Lincoln? Great job. But think about Tommy Lee Jones and Thaddeus Stevens – more expression than make up:

That’s Stevens, Jones, and Jones as Stevens (twice)


One Comment leave one →
  1. November 25, 2012 pm30 8:14 pm 8:14 pm

    “History” in this country, in our schools, is still far too often a history of “great men” such as Lincoln. It is easy to counter, for those of us on the more progressive side of things, with our own great men. I’m thinking here of Stevens. And what he did was amazing. But in doing so, we should not forget that men are carried by history, and that history is made by masses of people, obeying laws or rebelling, following orders, winning battles. And losing them.

    At the beginning of the movie, two Black soldiers speak with Lincoln. They admire him. And they admonish him. When will we see Black Lieutenants? When will Black soldiers earn the same as White soldiers? I’ve already forgotten their names, but bloody infantry and hardened sailors won the war. Let Grant command no one, and he would win no battles. Slaves left their plantations, or stopped serving. There is the act of “freeing” – not in a proclamation, or in an amendment, but in tens and hundreds of thousands of individual actions.

    I didn’t expect the movie to recognize this. But I think maybe I should have said something more in this post.

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