Only two weeks out of the gate, Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s latest film, has grossed $62.2 million domestically and created Oscar buzz for its star, Daniel Day Lewis. The poignant film focuses on the last four months of the life of Abraham Lincoln, America’s 16th president and the extraordinary efforts he undertook to get the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Lewis does a wonderful job of capturing the beloved characterization of Lincoln right down to his humbling lanky posture and poetically smooth voice. Many historians have written of Lincoln’s knack of storytelling, which, even though longwinded, they often had a profound purpose.
The backdraft of the movie is the winding down of the Civil War, fought between 1861 and 1865. The war was the result of decades of tension between the Northern and the Southern states. The pivotal issues were states’ rights versus federal control and the westward expansion of slavery. Lincoln, an anti-slavery Republican, was elected in 1860, which resulted in seven southern states succeeding from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. Shortly after the start of the war, four other states joined them.
Although the war was not the primary focus of the movie, graphic scenes of subtle truths were beautifully portrayed to remind the viewer that the Civil War claimed the lives of 620,000 of the 2.4 million soldiers who fought in it, many of whom were black and former slaves. Millions more were injured and the south was devastated.
History tells the story of how Lincoln freed the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863; however, the movie provides a more comprehensive depiction of the efforts Lincoln employed to get the 13th Amendment passed before the end of the war. Lincoln felt that without a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, it would be impossible for the Union to be reunited because the states’ courts could choose not to recognize the Emancipation Proclamation and freed slaves would be re-enslaved.
The film is based on Pulitzer Prize winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Lincoln, entitle Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Speaking last Wednesday at the University of North Florida, Goodwin said she likes to focus on presidents who dealt with a time of crises.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, Lincoln grossed more than $34 million, putting it in the No. 3 spot behind Skyfall, the James Bond adventure which grossed $200 million and Breaking Dawn 2, the final chapter in the vampire saga, which grossed $227 million.
But it’s Lincoln that is the quintessential conversation starter and a good foundation for a spirited political debate. It is definitely a must see for history buffs.