Lincoln

I came home one night last week and immediately wikipedia-ed (that’s a verb by now, right?) the eminent abolitionist and U.S. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, making a beeline for his personal life. If you know what I’m talking about, then you know where I was, in a theater watching the Spielberg film “Lincoln.” Watching a $65 Million Hollywood movie written by literary heavyweight such as Tony Kushner, not to mention its cast, isn’t a pleasure we get very often.

The critics are saying that they nailed it, and they’re more or less right. Even the Village Voice and its circuit of weekly papers, whose critics live to be snarky about Hollywood, especially anything uplifting and affirmative about America, had to roll over and give it up for this movie.

Kushner says that he wrote a 500-page first draft (!), and that Spielberg unexpectedly chose the first 100 pages, the part about the fight for a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, as the direction they were going with subsequent rewrites. It’s a credit to Kushner that the difficult juggling of congressional factions and timing of votes to coincide with events on the battlefield and possible peace offerings stays relatively clear throughout, and that the foggy moral choices Lincoln was forced to make stay front and center.

The political thriller of the early fall, “Argo,” courageously told a story of intrigue and action in which the goal was to not fire one’s gun, and “Lincoln” tells a story of a war-time president whose goal is to get a very profoundly moral amendment through the House of Representatives, whose factions oppose it on very different grounds, and not always entirely evil grounds. The timing of both films is incredibly canny. “Argo,” whose makers could not have known about the attack in Benghazi, spoke to liberals’ anxiety about whether Obama’s reelection would go down in flames Jimmy Carter-style. If I were a Mitt Romney partisan, I’d have wondered why we were watching THIS story and not the botched rescue mission that happened in April, 1980.

Likewise, “Lincoln” is the Obama Democrats are hoping for right now: a former Illinois senator, just recently reelected as president, with his loyal, more seasoned former New York senator/secretary of state at his side, with the U.S. Senate’s support in hand, twisting arms, bribing, and breaking rules to get the House of Representatives, which has just enough racists to keep the republic from making leaps forward, to bend to his political will and pass some visionary legislation. It’s such propaganda even I would be turned off, and I’m a supporter, if it weren’t so damn beautiful.

Denouement Number One. To keep in perspective about what these films really say about the zeitgeist, Both “Argo” and “Lincoln” together have not yet sold as much as “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2” just sold in its first week.

Denouement Number Two. One critic said Spielberg is “known for his multiple denouements,” which is just about the kindest way of saying what I feel about most studio films: The last forty minutes could have easily been cut to twenty minutes, and we would left the theater feeling the impact of the resolution much more deeply. “Lincoln” exceeded my expectations so often, that when his butler watches him walk alone down the long hallway of the Whitehouse, on his way to his carriage to Ford’s theater, it felt like the end, and I nearly cheered. Go Kushner! You’ve whupped Spielberg in line! Alas, there were ten more minutes.

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