If you saw the recent Spielberg movie, you know that Daniel Day Lewis’s portrayal of the 16th President is sweet, subtle, and extremely endearing – all attributes that Lincoln was noted to have. But the truth is, even 3-D glasses wouldn’t give this Lincoln any dimension.
It’s hard to get a pulse on exactly why Lincoln felt the way he felt about slavery. He just did. (As did a lot of people at the time.) He stepped up to the plate of humanity and totally hit a home run. He was solidly good.
But, as I read recently, the absence of inner-conflict in a character is the staple of melodrama. If your main conflict is between “virtue and vice” – a.k.a. “things we all agree are good vs. things we all agree are bad” you basically end up with Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.
If on the other hand you dramatize his (probably real) indecision about whether or not freeing slaves was a POLITICAL MEANS to END the war, you start to not like the guy so much. He becomes a politician, using a politically hot topic merely to “preserve the Union.” It messes with the solid gold character we’ve grown accustomed to over the course of history.
Or if you think, like Kushner did, to dramatize Lincoln’s attempt to delay the end of the War in order to sneak in the 13th amendment (a much more noble portrayal), you in effect move the drama of the film to the congress, which is where the movie LINCOLN really takes place.
And that is why Tommy Lee Jones’s character – Congressman Thaddeus Stevens – is the true protagonist of the story – the one with a desire and the will to pursue his desire against primarily external forces to a closed ending of irreversible change. Abe certainly DESIRES the change, but does very little to bring it about, and ultimately does not seem to change himself at all.
Anyway. This is what I was left thinking about after the film – which is, all in all, a very good film. Duh.
I also found myself very sad when ::SPOILER ALERT:: Lincoln was shot.
Because I realized that the goodness in humankind is measured only by its ability to hate. And that even 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, the struggle between those two universal truths is ongoing – both racially still, and also in the Civil Rights debate of today: gay equality.
What were you left with after you saw LINCOLN?