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.