By Gene Griessman, author of “Lincoln and Obama,” “The Words Lincoln Lived By,” and “Lincoln on Communication”
Some movies are based on a true story. This Is a true story. And one of the most important stories in history.
As told by Spielberg, history is alive, compelling and thrilling. But is it historically accurate? The answer is yes, even down to Lincoln’s jokes.
(I was delighted at the masterful way Daniel Day-Lewis tells an earthy joke that I just included in “Lincoln and Obama.”)
And, yes, Lincoln told dirty jokes. Sorry about that, hagiographers.
This is not the naive, country-bumpkin Lincoln that has been standard fare in Lincoln movies of previous generations.
This is Lincoln the politician. This is the man one contemporary calls “the purest man in America” aiding and abetting the wheeling and dealing and vote-buying that put an end to slavery in the US forever.
The Lincoln in this movie is the man whom his biographer Carl Sandburg had in mind when he wrote a letter to FDR: “I am glad that you are cunning, as Lincoln and Jackson were cunning.”
And why did Lincoln behave this way? Because he understood if slavery was not completely destroyed, that it would cause yet another civil war down the road. And the hundreds of thousands who had died had died in vain.
Without the 13th Amendment, the most generous thing historians could ever say about Lincoln is that he put down a rebellion.
I’ve performed Lincoln hundreds of times–including twice at Ford’s Theatre. So naturally I wondered about the acting choice Daniel Day-Lewis would make.
He nailed it.
Three supporting actors are in line to get Oscar nominations. David Strathairn (William Seward), Sally Field (Mary Todd Lincoln), and Tommy Lee Jones (Thaddeus Stevens)
The movie invites Lincoln and Obama comparisons. My research has led me to many, many Lincoln-Obama parallels.
And the repetition is not limited to presidents. The people who invented and reinvented America were just like us.
They fought fiercely, were mean and magnanimous, craven and principled, hot-headed and cool. blind and far-seeing, foolish and wise.
They adored and demonized the president. Just over 45% of Americans who voted in 1864 voted against the man whom a later generation carved on Mt. Rushmore.
They made the messy political compromises that make democracy work. Politicians still do that, and some of them get to be known as statesmen.
The arc of history bends toward justice, but that bending is sometimes uncertain, costly and painful.
var _gaq = _gaq || ; _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-21348070-1']); _gaq.push(['_setDomainName', 'whatyousay.com']); _gaq.push(['_trackPageview']);