After Seeing Lincoln, I Wanted to Sit in Stunned, Reflective Silence

Once in a great while when I see a film in a theater, I find myself not wanting to move when it’s over. Even after the credits stop rolling, I wish I could just sit in silence and remain in the moment. I want to think, to feel, to respond to the art I have just witnessed. My soul has been touched and I want to let this touch have its full effect.

Lincoln is such a film. After I saw it last night, I wanted to remain in the theater. If only the cleaning crew could have gone away for a while so I could sit in stunned silence. But, alas, there was popcorn to be swept up and cups to be thrown away, so I left the theater before my reflections were over.

Why was I so moved by Lincoln? Well, it certainly wasn’t the surprise plot twists of an altogether familiar story. Going in to the film, I knew what happened with the Civil War, with the Thirteenth-Amendment, and with President Lincoln shortly after the amendment passed. So, it wasn’t the plot that stirred my soul. Rather, it was several other things:

• The stunning acting of Daniel Day-Lewis, who so embodied Abraham Lincoln that I simply could not see Day-Lewis at all.

• The painful horror of slavery in America and the poisonous racism it leavened into our culture.

• The astounding reality of human depravity and the astounding reality of human virtue.

• The pain of leadership, especially leadership in difficult times.

• Admiration and appreciation for the artistry of Steven Spielberg and his team.

• The profound ethical challenges that are inescapable if one wants to make a real difference in the world.

• The moral vision and courage of Abraham Lincoln, so vividly portrayed in this film.

• The surprising integrity and beauty of the ending.

I will say only a little more about the ending. No spoilers here. But I do want to acknowledge the extraordinary wisdom of the Tony Kushner (writer) and Steven Spielberg (director) in crafting an ending that had true gravitas and was utterly faithful to Abraham Lincoln and his moral vision. It deserves all the thought it requires of us.

I was trying to remember that last time I wanted to remain in a theater because I was so deeply moved by a film. What came to mind, ironically enough, was when I saw Schlinder’s List almost twenty years ago. That movie, of course, was also directed by Steven Spielberg. And, like Lincoln, it had a marvelous soundtrack composed by John Williams. After seeing Schindler’s List and after seeing Lincoln, I hated the evil in the world. I marveled at the courage of people who stand up for good. And I wanted to be one of those people.

I know people respond differently to art and I’m sure this will be true of Lincoln. (9% of Rotten Tomatoes critics have given it a “rotten” review, for reasons I cannot fathom.) But, for me, watching this film was not just enjoyable and engaging, but also stunning and transformational.

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  • J Walker

    I felt that way with two other films, both about war: “We Were Soldiers” and “Saving Private Rya”n. One was from my generation and the other my fathers. It’s harder to relate to a time in history that you didn’t live through, so when a film can accomplish that it is a work of art indeed.

  • “The painful horror of slavery in America and the poisonous racism it leavened into our culture.” So well said.

  • Jennie

    There were several moving moments in this film but as LIncoln held Ulysses Grant’s hand and said (I’m paraphrasing), “We have helped each other do awful things” and Grant said, “But now the war is over …so lead us out of it.” Lincoln found a way to be reflective, compromise and be a strong leader. It seems obvious to suggest that we can learn from history and yet …

  • Jennie

    Re-reading this, it kind of sounds like I may be making a comment about current wars. I am not.

  • Robert Morwell

    The genius and power of Lincoln was that he could engage in the often ugly and messy business of “retail politics” while staying fiercely focused on the higher ideals for which he fought. And, he did so without demionzing his enemies and opponents. His Second Inaugural actually containined admissions that BOTH sides had morally failed, and that God did not automatically and unconditionally favor even the Union. It was a stunning display of humility which is almost unprecedented among political leaders, and would likely have triggered howls of protest, if a President dared such a thing today.

  • Bill Goff

    Mark, Thanks for your heartfelt and thoughtful response to Lincoln. It also stirred up many thoughts for me.
    Among other things, the film made me reflect on how difficult it is to bring significant
    changes to society. Any attempt to challenge the status quo and bring changes for the good inevitably encounter opposition. Lincoln’s wise and wily actions in getting the
    House of Representatives to approve the Thirteenth Amendment suggest that it is
    important to offer opponents incentives to do what is right. In my careers in the church and the Federal Government I learned (sometimes painfully) that people rarely do what is right just because it is right. They have to be shown that their own interests will be advanced by a new and uncomfortable idea. A wise use of persuasion, marketing and politics is necessary to bring meaningful change. If politics is the art of the possible, surely Abraham Lincoln must be regarded as one of our nation’s most accomplished