A few weeks ago our family went to see the movie Lincoln, and I knew right away that Daniel Day Lewis would have to get an Oscar for his portrayal of such a fascinating man.
Raised dirt poor by a devoutly Christian mother, born in a one room log cabin, Abraham Lincoln pushed himself to eventually become a successful lawyer, riding the circuits with a judge who tried cases in the various towns along the prairies of Illinois. How a classically trained British actor could be so convincing as this poor pioneer man who became the 16th president of the US, amazed me. Even the way he paused to take a breath, tipped his head to the side and grunt the tiniest bit, brought back memories of my uncles from Indiana and so many other elderly men I knew whose way of life had been formed in another era, when people would sit in rocking chairs on their front porches in the summer, sipping iced tea and telling long stories... Day Lewis made me feel like I knew Lincoln personally.
I had to pay close attention to all the details of the movie, and the complicated political discussions. It was a great history lesson for my 9th grader, who was actually able to keep up with all the ins and outs of the story. (Yay for me, homeschool mom!) For those who aren't familiar with the struggles that the US had before the outbreak of the Civil War, the rights of the individual states, the economic impact that slavery had on the South, and the way that our government functions, it would have been hard to follow. But even so, it was a brilliantly done film. These were the points that most caught my eye:
- Great, heroic moments in history (such as the abolition of slavery and the winning of the Civil War), come at a great and painful price. This includes heroic moments in the Bible until now. Massive sacrifices were made for them to come about.
- Just the fact that we believe in what is right is no guarantee that we'll win. As kids learning about Lincoln and his great deeds, there was always a rosy glow around each story, as if it was just natural that America would abolish slavery and that the north would win the war, and that we would never be divided into two countries. But the reality was that nothing was a given. Many times it appeared that all would be lost throughout that fight. Had the leaders given in to doubt or discouragement, had Lincoln and his supporters not pressed onward tirelessly for years, this country would not exist today as we know it.
- The influence of a weak woman can shake the strength of her husband, and the determination of a strong one can raise him up. The movie's take on Mary Todd Lincoln was the kindest and most understandable one I have ever seen. Most historians talk about her being wasteful with the White House funds in decorations and renovations, and that she was too superstitious and mentally unstable to be a good wife. This movie showed her in a light that seemed highly credible, and I trust that Steven Spielberg did his homework well enough to portray her fairly. As strong a man that her husband was, her fears and emotional outbursts were painful for him to bear on top of all the other stress of leading a country at war with itself. But one thing that did come through was that they ultimately believed in each other, stood by each other's side, and loved each other deeply.
- One of Lincoln's greatest strengths was that he never stopped being an ordinary man. Power and prestige didn't mean much to him. He cared about leading well and holding his country together. His down-to-earthiness made him immune to the temptations of pride and the praise of others.
- Lincoln believed so deeply in his principles, he was willing to do whatever it took to establish them - sometimes he used sneaky and questionable ways. These parts of the movie are the funniest, and take him down from being the "holiest" of presidents to being very relatable!
- He comments to his wife on an afternoon carriage ride once the war is over and the anti-slavery amendment has been passed by congress, "We must both be cheerful in the future. Between the war, and the loss of our darling Willie, we have both been very miserable.” And then he goes on to speak of someday going to the Holy Land to walk where King David and Solomon once were. The movie doesn't show him praying or being particularly spiritual, but you can see that his heart was on the things of God throughout his struggles, all of his life. His mother's teachings stayed with him till the end.
The saddest thing about this movie is that a large portion of movie goers are either not going to understand what is going on because they won't try to figure it out, or others won't even bother seeing it because they "aren't into history." If we aren't willing to learn from history, we aren't really willing to learn much at all.
I didn't leave the movie all pumped up and inspired as some movies can make me feel, but instead it was like a slow burning flame that reveals new insights that I'd like to keep with me for a very long time.