Lincoln is profoundly human


Lincoln centers on the political maneuverings surrounding the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Lincoln is portrayed as a real politician who was willing to play the political game in order to get what he wants. Human beings who support good causes are still human beings. Even an idea so pure and profound as “liberty for the captives” in the hands of politicians, even Abraham Lincoln, must be accomplished through bribery, deception, and compromise.

Lincoln is populated with flawed people who are keenly aware they are living in historic times. Lincoln is concerned with getting the amendment passed. Tommy Lee Jones’ sardonic Congressman Thaddeus Stevens is concerned with the message the amendment communicates. He tries to hold true to his ideal of equality, but ends up misrepresenting his true beliefs in order to appeal to less radical Republican factions who want assurances that free does not really mean equal. They fear that free slaves might one day get the vote. Others are concerned with ending the war and vote based on whether they think passing the amendment will hasten or delay its end. And each considers how his actions and beliefs will be perceived by his constituents.

Lincoln gets at the heart of fallible humans doing “good.” No matter how noble the cause, we also consider how our roles are perceived and what benefit we may derive or punishment we may endure because of our involvement. Sometimes we use the resulting “good” to excuse the way we go about accomplishing the goal. Missionaries and aid workers in many countries understand that bribes may be necessary to get help to people who need it.  When we buy Toms shoes most of us recognize that, in addition to supplying shoes to needy people, Tom is making hefty profits and has hit on a great marketing campaign that makes him look good and his customers feel good about themselves.

Human beings tend to tell themselves that the end justifies the means until someone calls them on the means. Remember Invisible Children’s founder Jason Russell’s bizarre breakdown amidst questions about whether Kony 2012 presented false information in order to boost donations? Invisible Children’s  2005 documentary ignited concern in hundreds of thousands of young people who are still active in caring for the needy and oppressed. The good that Lance Armstrong has done with Livestrong did not prevent his being stripped of his cycling awards because of doping allegations. Whether it’s possible for Invisible Children or Livestrong to continue to be effective will depend on how much human failing the public is willing to tolerate.

We expect and overlook a certain amount of disappointment in our leaders. Despite some very public baggage Bill Clinton’s popularity ratings are higher than ever. In contrast Richard Nixon’s presidency is overshadowed by the Watergate scandal. Former Penn State coach and convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky has no hope of social redemption. Some people become society’s villains and some, like Abraham Lincoln, become society’s heroes.

Historians rank Lincoln #1 among U.S. President and he’s #7 in a list of most important world leaders. But this Lincoln is no “Honest Abe” hero. He is a human being who has landed in a pivotal place in history, a place he orchestrated for himself to some extent. Being president has turned out to be a more complex and intense undertaking than Lincoln could have imagined. I suspect being president always turns out to be that way. The Lincoln in this film carries the weight of hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded, the weight of a divided nation,  the weight of family tragedy, and the weight of being profoundly human while making history.

Lincoln is everything an Oscar contender should be. John Williams score was absolutely amazing. Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln captured just the right amount of earnestness, with an endearingly sly sense of humor and self awareness. The realism of the costuming and sets, the way all the actors disappeared into their parts, even the pace of the movie made it feel so real. Director Stephen Spielberg, screen writer Tony Kushner and book author Doris Kearns Goodwin are great storytellers. For me, the only negative is that Lincoln is 150 minutes long and watching politicians maneuver for 150 minutes, while instructive, wore me out. I was so tired when it was over I felt like Lincoln looked.

One Response to “Lincoln is profoundly human”

  • maureen Says:

    Thanks, Shauna. This has been easy for me. I just post when I want to and keep the WordPress updates up-to-day. Good luck.