Lincoln: To Do Or Not To Do

Last friday night my church, The Crossing Church, hosted a movie night and featured the Academy Awarding winning film Lincoln. The US Civil War is a very interesting time in our nation’s history. Steven Spielberg made a movie to both celebrate and humanize the man who lead this nation through one of its worst periods in all of its brief history. I really enjoyed the film and wanted to give both my review and my biggest takeaway from the film.

The Review

The movie focuses on Lincoln’s life during the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, which ended institutional slavery in the country, by the US House of Representatives. But during that one month’s span we see all of the man, Abraham Lincoln. The politician, the leader, the husband, the regular Joe. This complex man crossed the gambit. The film ends with the surrender of the South and the death of the President at the hands of John Wilkes Booth.

Let me start by saying that this film is an excellent film. Many people have no doubt seen the movie while it was either in theaters or since it has been released on DVD and BlueRay. Daniel Day Lewis really sells the film with his performance. He is gripping and by the end of the film he “is” the 16th president. Pictures of the historical Abraham Lincoln seem to be fakes or impersonations. Tommy Lee Jones is great in the film as well, key to the comedic relief that turned out to be the US House of Representatives–how far from the truth they really have not strayed.

What I liked about the movie most is that Lincoln was not some immortal god. He was deeply flawed. He struggled to manage his family life. Does he let his oldest son join the US Army and risk losing him like his middle son? Or, as the Commander in Chief of the US Army, does he block the enlistment? And I was pleasantly surprised to see Joseph Gordon Levitt play Robert Lincoln. Lincoln himself called into question his “war powers” and whether or not they were legitimate. I liked that because the film recognized that what this man did was not really constitutional to solve the crisis. His Emancipation Proclamation only worked if slaves were property, which goes against what the President trying to do. Lincoln was a human being who made mistakes. The Best Actor in a Leading role was well earned.

I think that the Academy got the awards right when they gave Argo the best picture nod over Lincoln. In both films we know the outcome, we know the history. But during Argo I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, unsure if the good guys would get their victory after all, despite what my brain was telling me. With Lincoln it was not so. The intensity of the dramatic tension was missing. The votes that seemed unsure in film we knew would come around. It lacked the edge.

My Takeway

One of the things I liked about the film was the discussion of the 13th Amendment, which the film centered around this vote. There is a scene during the debate where Tommy Lee Jones’ character was speaking in defense of the proposed amendment that would end US slavery as an institution. There is a discussion in the hallways about how the amendment is incomplete and that Jones’ was compromising his beliefs in seeing the Black man on equal footing with the White man. The idea was that the amendment wasn’t going to do enough.

And that’s a question that this country faces over and over. Are the measures that our government taking in response to gun violence or health care worth it because they won’t do enough? The measures that are proposed are certain not the final answer and will only answer a few questions in addressing issues like these. There will be a lot left on the table. Ergo (Latin) is it even worth it to propose measures that will leave the problems far from satisfactorily addressed?

And the film says, “Yes it is.” You have to start somewhere. The freed slaves can’t be equal to the whites if they are slaves. They aren’t even human, they are property. Ending slavery as a legal institution had to come first. But as the film pointed out, the journey was, and is, far from over. Equality between races is not a reality. But it has gotten better. Ending slavery was the necessary first step. Imperfect answers can get the journey started and help us realize where we are, where we want to be, and how to get there.


Lincoln blew me away. It was such a high quality narrative told in a very human and compelling way. A tip of the cap to Spielberg and his cast and crew. And I loved what this movie says to us as we face our own issues today. Just as the 13th Amendment wasn’t going to solve everything, so to are the solutions that have been proposed in our own debates. But that shouldn’t mean we become inept and unwilling to do anything at all. We need to start somewhere. Every generation has issues to face. Each generation has to answer the question, “To do or not to do?”

~ by hankimler on May 1, 2013.

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