too conveniently timed to coincide with contemporary moments or do they
us to address the unwanted memories and atrocities of the past? To this
America struggles to address its racial history, determined to shield
from its ugly and divided past, particularly in pop culture. Only two
an edition of Mark Twain's novel "Adventures
of Huckleberry Finn" (1884) was published replacing the word
"nigger" with "slave".
attitude applies in Hollywood. Director Spike Lee declared he wouldn't
Quentin Tarantino's slave-Western Django
Unchained, as it would be insulting to his ancestors. The film has
been criticised for the frequency of the word "nigger" too. However,
this year Steve McQueen (Shame) will
also be releasing a film called Twelve
Years a Slave and the frequency of slavery as a film topic could
there is genuine interest in exploring the subject as a result of
documenting Abraham Lincoln's efforts to pass the 13th Amendment to
slavery, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln isn't
concerned with foreshadowing modern history, like Obama's 2008
Spielberg bought the rights to Doris Kearns Goodwin's book "Team of
Rivals" before it was written in the early part of the last decade.
film began development under the Bush administration and Spielberg
stated in an
interview with the ABC: "It's not about America today, but it has
tremendous repercussions looking back about what America could be today
the right leadership".
is deemed one of the most iconic Hollywood filmmakers since Frank
cinema he has recreated some of the most important historical events of
last century, including the Holocaust (Schindler's
List) and the Invasion of Normandy (Saving
Private Ryan). He is a great fit for this material but like Capra,
susceptible to over sentimentalising his most work, as was the case
with War Horse (2011).
their films both directors have shared a vision of America becoming an
idealised land of equality. For Spielberg, this stemmed from childhood
was tormented for being Jewish and admitted to being embarrassed by his
heritage. After 9/11, the way that the Bush administration shattered
with the Middle East stung Spielberg's American Dream.
Hence, Lincoln is a film concerned by
for great leadership and social equality, though at the expense of
political and legal rules. The haunting image of a pile of amputated
thrown into a ditch, visualises the film's moral dilemma and poses a
the War on Terror itself: in times of conflict, how long can a
withhold change before engaging with social reform?
his re-election, President Lincoln (a magnificent, chameleon
Daniel Day-Lewis) faces pressure to end the Civil War and abolish
he is reminded by his staff, including William Seward (David
ending the war before the vote will mean there is no reason to
slavery: "It's either the amendment or this confederate peace, you
cannot have both." Lincoln
is also urged by wife Mary-Todd (Sally Field) to end the war because
eldest son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is determined to enlist in the
Lincoln requires twenty votes to pass the motion, including votes from
Democratic Party, and enlists some men (John Hawkes, James Spader) to
jobs as bribes to those who will support the vote.
surprising about the film is that despite encompassing many of
staples, the lost child, an anti-war message and social and racial
is without the director's usual preachiness and cinematic gaudiness.
narrative is conventionally structured but resembles a play rather than
epic. The screenplay by playwright Tony Kusher (Angels in
America) gives the film and its backroom drama well
researched and highly colourful conversations to work through. I did
of the political terminology, combined with Early Modern English
("buzzard's guts!" "water closet"), to be intimidating at
the film past these challenging moments is the amount of humour and
are hilarious conversations and anecdotes in the film, which are
Spielberg's restrained direction. The colours are gloomy and drab and
camerawork is sparse. The film is mostly compromised of men talking in
and the containment of these scenes is a reminder of, for better or
where leadership begins and ends. Relying heavily on the charisma of
is an intelligent move by Spielberg as no one here is anything less
convincing. Tommy Lee Jones is hugely enjoyable in a highly theatrical
Thaddeus Stevens, whose public image and values are tested as he
suppresses his passion and fierceness to help his party secure the
the few cinematic moments is an opening scene where we see the abstract
from Lincoln's dream about a ship. He later says in the film: "We're whalers!"
This reflects the same themes equal to Herman Melville's novel
"Moby-Dick" (1851): a Manifest Destiny and the impossible search for
Spielberg and Lincoln therefore share a collective and optimistic dream
America, but the director resists lingering over the film's
relevance. His film and its necessity for leadership achieves an
that extends far beyond what has happened in the last four years of
history and surges deep into an uncertain future.