Lincoln

Kris and I attended Lincoln Friday (early evening, OK, matinee) and we both enjoyed it immensely. I’m wondering what you thought of the movie ... but this clip from an article about how they worked to get Lincoln’s abundant speaking sounding like what would have been said in the 1860s is a good exhibit of the work done by moviemakers…

IMAGINE THAT you’re Steven Spielberg and you need a script for your new film: a meticulous re-creation of the final months in the life of Abraham Lincoln. Keep in mind that it’s a modern Hollywood blockbuster but is set a century and a half ago. It portrays real people with distinctive regional quirks, and revolves around perhaps the greatest orator in American history. Oh, and it’s two and a half hours of mostly talking. How would you ensure that the language of the film was just right?

What Spielberg did, after some false starts with other screenwriters, was to hire Tony Kushner, a playwright with a talent for channeling diverse voices and whose only previous movie work was on Spielberg’s “Munich.” Whatever its other cinematic virtues, “Lincoln” is undoubtedly a linguistic achievement, imbuing vintage 19th-century dialogue with contemporary ­vibrancy.

Curious about how Kushner pulled it off, I got in touch with him to learn more about his writing process. One key to making the language historically suitable, he told me, was having the 20-volume print edition of the Oxford English Dictionary close at hand. A complete set of the OED—which includes deep histories of all its entry words, with examples—was one of his first purchases when he started earning money from his 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play, “Angels in America,” Kushner said. Through the many drafts of “Lincoln,” he checked every word that he thought might not have been appropriate for 1865.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Clay Knick

    I loved it. I’m ready to see it again.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    The three of us in our family who went together really appreciated it, too. I greatly appreciated how Spielberg’s Lincoln held onto his integrity, even while understanding the political games others played. (Offering someone a way to make a living, thus helping them not to be beholden from old interest groups, is much different than bribes, in an ethical system, ISTM.) We couldn’t imagine making the choices he had to make. The human toll of that war…my God.

    We came away thinking that this would be a good movie to own, simply so that we could pause and go over parts again, to catch the dialogue and the nuances of the characters which were expressed.

    Your clip on the attention to detail involved in the construction of the dialogue offers a glimpse into the depth & care which went into making this movie. Thank you!

  • Roger

    We loved it as well. Two curious errors in a script that had such high standards–one so blatant even I caught it!

    1. Referring to the Executive Mansion as the White House (read this elsewhere, I didn’t know it wasn’t called the White House until later.
    2. The totally unnecessary and clearly wrong reference to Lincoln’s likeness being on the 50-cent piece! No living President has every been so honored.

    I guess the 20-vol. OED can’t catch everything. ;-)

  • Sue

    Loved it! reading _Team of Rivals_ as,a result. Looking forward to seeing it again. From my POV, it did a good job of illustrating the trade-offs necessary in politics, along with an unerring focus on what would NOT be given away.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    The movie is just fantastic. There are many scenes I want to reflect on more when it come out in DVD (as Ann notes.) One scene that stuck with me was Lincoln persuading Stevens in the basement of the White House. Lincoln talks about how a compass can tell you what direction your destination is but it can’t tell you what path to take to get there. Are there mountains or swaps in the way if just plow straight ahead? (as Stevens wants to do.) Will you need to move on direction or the other off of the straight line to more effectively get where you are going? I can’t get over how many people don’t seem to get this when comes to politics (state, church, office, or wherever). There a number of good life lessons in the movie.

    The scene where they are trying to provoke Stevens into declaring Blacks are equal in all ways was great.

  • Mike M

    Our whole family loved it. I appreciated the approach that this was no black and white, good vs. evil event. Each politician approached the vote from a personal conviction (which the “gentlemen from Albany” quickly discerned). My favorite part was when the church bells tolled.

  • Diane

    I loved this movie. I loved that, in a culture of narcissism, this wasn’t about Lincoln per se, but about Lincoln using his mind, body, spirit, talents and skills to help others. He suffered personally, such as in losing a son, but that wasn’t the Most Important Thing. I loved how down to earth his character was, how connected he felt with others, and how he was able to diffuse bombast with stories while sticking unswervingly to a very serious goal. I loved this movie, as I did Wilberforce and The King’s Speech, which were also about people transcending Self for a higher purpose. I loved in all three cases that the films let the story do the work, not gimmicks, not “blowing up or throwing up.” I hope filmmakers will do more movies like these.

  • Bill

    Great movie and pretty good history. IMO, it was a little Spielbergian in places and the ending a little overdone. Aside from those items, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anybody. Even family dysfunction is addressed in a very even-handed but somewhat understated way. Lincoln and Mary Todd suffered from great depression partly due to the death of their son. Sally Fields’ portrayal of Mary Todd was very good especially dealing with how grief can affect one’s perspective.

    It’s depiction of politices was good. It shows that any legislative process especially constitutional is politcal and it will always be in this great Republic.

  • http://drgtjustwondering.blogspot.com Diana Trautwein

    A fascinating film that I would love to see again. Every detail (except the two noted above) was beautifully done, from language to clothing to sets to lighting and of course, to acting. Phenomenal jobs by everyone involved. I think, however, you were wise to go to a matinee. In the middle of all those conversations/speeches, you just might get a little bit sleepy if you were too tired to absorb it all. Not that I would know anything about that, of course…

  • http://www.simicovenant.org mark almlie

    If ever there were a movie that encapsulates the proverb “no good deed goes unpunished” this is it. Lincoln had to absorb so much pain and conflict to push through the 13 amendment. I came away amazed that he never gave up, despite being surrounded by conflict from his family, cabinet, and other politicians….oh, right, and that little war he and all Americans endured!

  • John Mark

    A brilliantly conceived, expertly made movie, worthy of many awards. Two quibbles. One: a time or two I thought Lincoln sounded a bit like Walter Brennan. And the other; the bad language bothered me. It apparently didn’t bother any of those who have commented so far, so label me a prude or a fundamentalist/Pharisee and let it go at that. But–and I’m not questioning the idea that people ‘cussed’ back in those days; I’m sure they did–I felt like every need for emphasis or emotional impact could have been accommodated and achieved without profanity or obscenity. It is just so unnecessary.


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