Oscar® Winner for Best Actor in a leading role, Best Production Design
Nominee for: Best Picture, Best Directing, Writing (Adapted Screenplay), Best Cinematography, Best Actor in a supporting role, Best Actress in a supporting role, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Music (original score), Best Sound Mixing
Reviewed by: Casey Scharven
Biography History War Drama Adaptation
2 hr. 20 min.
Year of Release:
November 9, 2012 (limited—11 theaters)
November 16, 2012 (limited)
DVD: March 26, 2013
movie review: “Gettysburg” (1993)
movie review: “Gods and Generals” (2003)
movie review: The Conspirator (2011)
movie announcement: Faith in the White House (2008)
team conflict / reconciling conflicting personalities, cultural conflicts and political factions to achieve success for greater good
war in the Bible
What is the Biblical perspective on war? Answer
Does the Bible condone slavery? Answer
U.S. abolition/abolishment of slavery
emancipation of slaves
death of a child
Hearing a movie is directed by Steven Spielberg is often a reason many people pause and consider seeing that movie. His record as a writer, producer, and director places him as one of most influential filmmakers in cinema history. Involved in many of the most important AND popular films in the past 40 years (“Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Back to the Future,” “Schindler's List,” “Jurassic Park,” “Amistad,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” and many, many others), his latest production, “Lincoln” will be considered as an addition to the list of Spielberg classics.
The movie, which Mr. Spielberg based on the book Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, is focused on President Lincoln’s efforts to convince the House of Representatives to pass the proposed 13th Amendment (to abolish slavery) prior to the end of the war with the Southern states. The movie trailers give only a hint as to the powerful scenes which show the political struggle to address the future of the United States; its relationship to slavery and to those who would be freed by the 13th Amendment. The movie opens with a poignant scene where it is apparent that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address has impacted both white and colored soldiers. As part of the effort to pass the 13th Amendment in the House of Representatives, the movie portrays the question of how to address the Confederacy’s peace overtures, the timing of the war’s end, and the vote on the Amendment. Many politicians believed that passage of the Amendment would cause the continuation of the war, as the South would fight on; President Lincoln wanted the Amendment passed so there could be no possibility of slavery continuing after the Southern states rejoined the Union.
When you were little, do you remember imagining a scene from a book? Mr. Spielberg has a knack for bringing stories to the cinema screen that we might have only been able to imagine, and in “Lincoln”, he has done so again. If you ever wondered what Abraham Lincoln really looked like; how he walked, and maybe even how he talked (yes, Daniel Day-Lewis researched contemporary accounts of how Lincoln spoke), you will be enchanted. If you ever wondered what a Civil War battle might have looked like, then you will have a good idea of it by the end of the movie. Spielberg has brought the era, the city, the men and women, the politics, and the war to the big screen in a hyper-realistic manner reminiscent of “Saving Private Ryan”. He shows the complicated tapestry President Lincoln had to weave to keep the Union together as the war reached the final days, while trying to prepare for the eventual reconciliation of the Southern states. You see the weariness on General Ulysses Grant’s face; see the bloody aftermath of battle in a Union hospital; and see the struggles of many people as they thought about what freeing the slaves would truly mean to the nation.
Daniel Day-Lewis is incredible in his portrayal of President Lincoln. One of the greatest compliments to an actor is that when you go to a film, you do not “see” the actor, but the character. In this movie, you do not see Daniel Day-Lewis, two-time Academy Award winner; you see President Abraham Lincoln. His mannerisms, how he walked, held his hands, how he spoke were all researched and performed in great detail. You see a man dealing with the weight of war, and with the knowledge of the cost in human lives. A man who was wounded by the death of his son, and who struggles to deal with his wife, who has been even more grievously wounded by their son’s death. A man who understood the true genesis of the war, and his unique position to end the abomination of slavery. You hear the stories President Lincoln used to tell. Lewis plays President Lincoln as a real person, not the sanitized “saint” we so often read about.
Sally Field is excellent in the portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln, who has often been vilified in books by her erratic actions. David Strathairn is exceptional as Secretary of State William Seward, who is often only remembered today for “Seward’s Folly” and the purchase of Alaska. Mr. Strathairn has an impressive resume of work (see his turn as Edward R. Murrow in “Good Night, and Good Luck”) and is a strong supporting character. Tommy Lee Jones could have been accused of playing Representative Thaddeus Stevens “over the top,” but when you research Representative Stevens, you find that Mr. Jones’ portrayal may not have been far from the mark. His ill-tempered, quick-witted, sarcastic, and eloquent persona is perfect for an actor like Jones. Other cast members are excellent, with my particular favorites being Bruce McGill as Secretary of War Stanton, and Jackie Earle Haley as Alexander Stephens.
Unlike many movies in recent years, “Lincoln” does not fall into the trap of overwhelming special effects, or a soundtrack that detracts from the movie experience instead of bringing the audience closer to the story. The visual imagery in the movie is breathtaking; the soundtrack works well to bring the story to life. The acting performances are often understated, and often the movie shows the power of speech and the raw exercise of power in politics. The President’s assassination is handled in a subdued manner (no graphic scenes of the shooting or death).
So, what to make of the movie from a Christian perspective?
The movie is rated PG-13, and shows violent battle scenes, but not anywhere on par with the ferocity or scale of the opening scenes of “Saving Private Ryan”. A Christian is saddened to realize that war is a reflection of the sinful state of man. The movie portrays the love the Lincolns’ had for their sons Willie, Tad, and Robert, to include the grief shown by both parents over the death of Willie. It shows the inability of Abraham and Robert to engage in a close relationship; these are all emotions and areas which we see today in our families. Many Christians struggle when a child is lost, and can find themselves far from the LORD during this time. President Lincoln’s faith is not overtly on display, and historians have differences on what the President’s true views were on Christianity. The movie shows the conflict of slavery in the mid-19th century, and how, even in the North, many white people were simply unable to cross the line and accept a colored person as an equal. They could believe that slavery was wrong, and even a sin; but they could not accept a colored person having the right to own property, or to vote.
The Bible tells us that all men are sinful and are in need of a Savior. The movie shows how patronage was used (legal in 1865) to procure votes from Democratic Representatives during the lame duck Congress. Patronage was the practice of a politician rewarding supporters with government jobs, and some might argue that patronage was simply a tool used in the mid-19th century to “get things done”. I would ask simply if you would believe Jesus would approve of providing a position to someone not based on who they were, but what votes or funds they brought to a political party or campaign.
The movie portrays Representative Stephens, a long-time supporter of full equality for colored people, speaking to the House of Representatives and lying by stating that equality of the races was not his view but only equality before the law. He did so out of political expediency, knowing that if the newspapers reported his radical idea of racial equality, the Amendment might fail during the House vote. After the vote, a colleague approaches Stevens to say they were nauseated by his lie; Stevens replies (in essence) that means justified the end result. This showed that Stevens was not ready to trust the LORD with the vote, but felt he had to lie to ensure that the Amendment was passed in the House of Representatives. After the vote, Representative Stephens is also shown going home and getting into bed with his colored housekeeper. It is clear that they are not married, and the Bible clearly states this is adultery.
I had the most trouble with the language. I was particularly sensitive to the use of the LORD’s name, but there is also a lot of vulgarity, with numerous f***, son of a bi***, da**, cr**, pi**, sh**, he** throughout the movie. There were also uses of the name of Jesus in a profane manner. Mostly, I was very disappointed that the were over 10 uses of “g** d***”. I usually draw the line at the use of the LORD’s name, but have to admit that any movie that strives to be historically accurate is going to be portraying the life of a sinner. Sinners often use profanity, and often take the LORD’s name in vain. The philosophical battle of truthfully bringing a historical person to the screen is in conflict with the command that no one should take the name of the LORD in vain.
Ultimately, “Lincoln” shows us the battle our nation fought in 1865. Many would consider the battle to be the one fought by the Northern and Southern armies. I would submit that the battle most eloquently and powerfully brought to the screen in “Lincoln” is the battle over the worth of an enslaved people, and the struggle of a nation to come to terms with the question of equality between the races.
As Christians, we are called to salt and light to a fallen world, and that we are to serve the lowest of the low. We are called to love one another, as Christ loved us. This movie is a reminder of the depths of sin we can fall into, and the terrible consequences of that sin.
Violence: Moderate to heavy / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Mild
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.
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