Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Brett McCracken, Lincoln Review


Brett McCracken reviews the film Lincoln for Christianity Today (November 16, 2012), awarding it highest rating (four stars). Against the Lincoln revisionsts, McCracken agrees with Spielberg's view that slavery was the crucial issue:
[Lincoln] believes abolishing slavery is a necessary step to move the country forward in unity. But politics being the complicated game that it is, conviction alone won't accomplish the goal. A good leader also needs skill in forging alliances, making deals, and charismatically bargaining with the other side to give and take for the common good. In other words: political skill. And Lincoln had it in spades.
In other words, Lincoln knew that an America half-slave, half-free would ever be a house divided against itself and never stand, but he couldn't show his cards ahead of time. Like Obama, he believed in negotiation and compromise, but he was good at it, loved the process, whereas Obama isn't, and doesn't . . . unless he's learned from his first term's failures. Or learns from the film. I understand Obama arranged a private screening in the White House, with Spielberg and the actors present. Maybe he'll gain some insight from this:
One of the fascinating strengths of Lincoln is the way that it turns the nitty-gritty, inelegant work of politics into utterly compelling, even inspiring, drama. At a time when Americans are more cynical than ever about Congress and the partisan politics of no-compromise belligerence that threaten to pilot the nation over ominous "cliffs," a film like Lincoln is helpful. It reminds us that amazing things can emerge from democracy even in the most divided of times. The country was extremely divided in 1865, and the tone in Washington wasn't exactly civil (back then, politicians hurled insults like "you fatuous nincompoop!" at each other during House debates). And yet, with the guidance of Lincoln and the shrewd political maneuvering of his cabinet, enough votes were secured to get the amendment passed. Spielberg's film is a captivating document of history, yes; but it's also a reminder that working across party lines is not weak capitulation. On the contrary, it can birth revolutionary, healing change.
Or do the Republicans need to learn from the film? Probably both sides. Not that this will be easy. There are deep issues at stake, e.g., whether we want a European-style social welfare system or not, and either way, how we're going to handle demographic decline, a problem the whole world faces, and one that will likely create economic problems that ramify throughout society and the political system, something that I ought to blog about. But back to Lincoln:
As much as Lincoln is about political process, it is also (obviously) about the man himself: Honest Abe. The beauty of this film is that it maneuvers effortlessly between the legislative drama and the intimate moments where we get glimpses -- thanks to Day-Lewis' remarkable performance -- into the personality and character of Lincoln and his family. Much of the "iconic Lincoln" is on display here: the tall, lanky man with a scraggly beard and top hat; the unpolished frontier boy with log cabin roots (Lincoln puts his own wood logs in the fireplaces of the Oval Office). But as portrayed by Day-Lewis, he's also a natural born storyteller and jokester, an individualist who values quiet time alone and has strained relationships with members of his own family. He's a dignified man who is sober-minded and soft-spoken, but forceful and impassioned when he needs to be. Above all, he's a commanding presence; when he opens his mouth, people listen.
I wish I had that quality, to speak and be instantly listened to. My maternal grandfather had it, but I don't. One needs a good mind, a good voice, and a good memory, and Grandpa Perryman had all three. I have only one of the three . . . or I hope I have at least one.

I intend to see the film. Perhaps I'll pick up a few pointers on how to improve my speaking by watching Daniel Day-Lewis's commanding performance.

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