‘Lincoln’ Logs In– A Historical Movie for the Ages

This one was personal, deeply personal for me as a son of the South. As a child I used to read all about the Confederacy. I still have my Pictorial History of the Confederacy. I grew up in the old South before integration in the public schools, before integration at public restaurants, when there were still separate bathrooms at all sorts of public places, and one of them said ‘colored’. Not black men and then black women, but one bathroom labeled ‘colored’. I remember even seeing one of the last parades of Confederate veterans on Confederate Veteran’s Day as a small child. I remember going to school in Boston and being deeply shocked to discover that not all the schools there were integrated even in 1974, even though that happened in the South in 1968. I remember going into the houses of some African Americans and there on the wall would be pictures of Lincoln. Lincoln the great emancipator. Lincoln the greatest President we have ever had, and in so many ways the most human and humane one as well.

It is personal for me as well because I live in the town, Lexington Kentucky, where Mary Todd Lincoln’s house can be found, and where Jefferson Davis lived and went to college at Transylvania College. I have visited the Lincoln homestead out in the country in Kentucky, and have pastored a church not a stone’s throw from where Carl Sandburg wrote his epic multi-volume biography of Lincoln. Almost anytime I reach into my pocket looking for change, there is the face of Abraham Lincoln staring back at me.

And I can say to you today, that short of the Kingdom of God, I have come as close as I ever will to seeing him in the flesh. Daniel Day-Lewis has shown me the man himself in one of the most transcendent portrayals of a historical figure ever on film… complete with the speech and gait and stooped shoulders and facial hair and humor and zeal and profundity of the man himself.

Day-Lewis is of course a method actor, by which I mean he believes in embodying the man himself, becoming Lincoln for a period of time. He wouldn’t even allow when he was not being filmed for anyone to address him as other than Lincoln. He would stay in the part throughout the whole of the filming. The story goes that Spielberg came to him, offered him the part, and said he wanted to start filming in six months. Day-Lewis retorted that he needed a full year to study Lincoln and everything we know about him before he could do the part. Spielberg, who is not used to being told ‘not now’, decided it was the better part of wisdom to wait. I am thinking that now, he is ever so glad he did.

Day-Lewis gives not merely an Oscar worthy performance, he may have given the greatest performance I have ever seen. And he is surrounded by a superb cast that themselves are worth of awards— Sally Fields as Mary Todd Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, to name but two. For two hours and 29 minutes you are mesmerized by the color, the pathos, the rhetoric of Lincoln and his compatriots.

This is not really a Civil War movie, and re-enacting buffs will not get much cud to chew on in this film. It is a movie about a four month period in Lincoln’s life, and a little more leading up the passing of the Abolition amendment, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and on to Appomattox. We learn about Lincoln the politician and compromiser, not above using lobbyists and promises of jobs to obtain votes for the amendment. We learn about his love for his son Tad, and his sometimes tumultuous relationship with his wife he called Molly. In the vein of ‘plus change plus la meme chose’, we see Congress deeply divided and always bickering and calling each other names, and getting not much accomplished. The movie is especially timely as Lincoln was pressing this matter just after being re-elected for a second term and dealing with a lame duck Congress.

There is nothing not to like about this movie. It is filmed beautifully, it is historically accurate to a very great extent (yes Lincoln was that funny a story teller), you can almost smell the mud, and the blood of war, and feel the weight of the world on Lincoln’s shoulders. You can see the moral dignity and yet at the same time the political and legal nature of this President. This is the kind of movie which can indeed change a man’s mind or a woman’s heart, at least in regard to understanding that human beings are capable of great moral good, and equally great moral evil. As for slavery, John Wesley had it right when he wrote to William Wilberforce calling it “the inexorable sum of all villainies”.

Someday, if you find yourself listening to Copland’s wonderful A Lincoln Portrait, or remember when you were asked to learn the Gettysburg address, you will think back to when you saw this movie and say— ‘behold the man’. Not Jesus, by a long shot, but someone doing the Lord’s work, a work for which he paid dearly with his very life. Ask yourself today— what does equality really mean? What price have we paid for freedom and democracy? When you ask those questions, you have asked the very ones for which Lincoln lived and died, and many another with him. He was a man ‘fitted’ to the times. We need another like him now.

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  • Kenny Johnson

    Glad you liked it. I had the pleasure of seeing it yesterday and loved it as well. I sent a text message to my friend immediately after seeing it, telling him that he would love it.

    It made me an instant fan of Thaddeus Stevens as well. Someone I remember from history class (I was a history major!), but had maybe never given much attention to. I loved Jones’ portrayal of him and I’m eager to learn more about the man.

    Spader’s crass character was also a lot of fun. The whole movie was just great. Something that, on its surface should be boring (politicking and debate) was made incredibly interesting by the great script and performances. I really loved the moment of Lincoln and Tad. It really humanized him — to see him as a tender father.

  • Perry L Stepp

    Saw the movie last night; so blown away by Day-Lewis’s performance, & the timeliness of the content, that I was nearly speechless for 30 minutes after.

    One if the best movies I’ve ever seen. THE best single performance by an actor that I’ve ever seen. Wow.

  • JosephineSouthern

    William Wilberforce calling it “the inexorable sum of all villainies”. Also, called the grestest curse
    to white men and their descendants!
    NO, I am NOT a fan of Lincoln, period! The man had no diplomacy, he started the war that
    killed my countrymen, he invaded our lands and killed, maimed, stole, destroyed it.
    Freeing 4 MILLION black slaves by turning them out with no Jobs, no shelter, no food,
    was a SIN against all of us in the south.
    The US was the only country to do so, all the rest freed them properly. About those
    bathrooms you are not aware of the yellow fever and flu epidemics in the South,
    The freed slaves with out jobs, food, or shelter had become careless of their hygiene, they
    spread germs like wildfire – the separate facilities was necessary because your germs are different from my germs and my body has not acclimated to your germs. Tell the truth like it really was for God’s Sake! The blacks know different Rev Wright knows different just get honest about ole abe.

  • http://gospelthemes.blogspot.com/ Tom Schuessler

    I am a Lincoln lover, both words and deeds, and one reason for my attraction is that , as a lawyer, he is a kind of saint for our profession. I have friends whose great great grandparents knew of his law practice in Illinois, and he was an honest lawyer. And you can’t ever think of Lincoln without thinking of issue of slavery. I can’t wait to see the movie? But what about from the viewpoint of the south? If you were a boy from Georgia, wouldn’t your thoughts of Lincoln be the man invaded your state, burned your city, and destroyed your house? Southerners have a story to tell as well.

  • Dave

    Any account that leaves out such things as his suspension of the right of Habeus Corpus, the unlawful imprisonment of dissidents and suppression of those who did not support the war (something that should be important to those who are pacifist) is not telling the whole truth of the man. On the whole, he may have been a great man, but not all is perfect, and the flaws need to be explored as well so that we can learn from his folly as well as from his success.

  • Don

    I am looking forward to seeing the movie. I read “Team of Rivals” a year or so ago and gained even greater respect for Lincoln.

    I believe Mr. Wesley called it the “execrable sum of all villainies.”

  • http://www.donbryant.wordpress.com don bryant

    I grew up with Confederacy lore and focused a lot on Civil War history. It became harder and harder for me to read about it lest the pull of the lost cause pull me in and I find myself rooting for the wrong side. I just walked away from the Civil War. As now a northerner after 25 years in New England, I have weaned myself away from the majesty of southern civil war monuments and confederate flags. I don’t know that Lincoln would have assumed this pose, but it was a way of keeping the war out of my heart.

  • Don

    In my town in Texas on the county courthouse lawn there is a 1911 monument to Confederate war veterans with an inscription that reads in part: “no nation rose so white and fair none fell so pure of crime.” The sentiments still run deep in this part of the country, as evidenced by post-election talk of secession.

  • Max

    Charles Dickens maintained that “The Northern onslaught upon slavery was no more than a piece of specious humbug designed to conceal its desire for economic control of the Southern states.”
    President Lincoln’s concern was preventing the secession of the South in order to protect Northern manufacturers and to retain the tax source for the Federal government. The abolition of slavery was not the purpose of the war. In his Inaugural Address he promised he would invade the South for the purpose of collecting taxes and recovering the forts but he would support the first 13th amendment which protected slavery in the states where it already existed.
    It changed the system of government given to by the Founders and instead replaced it with a strong national government thereby removing most of the political power from the states and the people. When the famous British historian, Lord Acton, wrote to Robert E. Lee after the war, in 1866, he inquired about Lee’s assessment of the meaning of the war and the result that would follow. Lord Acton’s letter stated, in part, that:
    “I saw in State Rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy . . . . Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.”
    Lee replied, and stated, in part, what the result would be:
    ” . . . [T]he consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of the ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.”

    The Orwellian historians have falsified the true purposes or motives behind most of America’s wars, and have instead given us glorified accounts designed to mislead the public in order to justify the sacrifices the people have made. All wars, whether won or lost, tend to centralize and increase the power into the national government, increase the debts and taxes and diminish the civil liberties of the citizens. It is time we begin to see through the myths and false propaganda about American wars so that we can prevent future wars. Americans have a strong tendency to accept as true the false wartime propaganda which now appears in the history books and which is repeated by politicians and intellectuals to the effect that all of America’s wars have been just, necessary and noble. This tendency of the Americans to accept this false propaganda tends to prevent them from questioning the alleged reasons for current wars.

    Quote from John V Denson, The Costs of War.