Monday, November 19, 2012

A few more thoughts on "Lincoln"

As I said in my review the other day, I really liked the movie. This isn't to say I thought it was a perfect history. But it's important to consider the function of a movie like "Lincoln" before castigating it for playing somewhat fast and loose with the historical record. "Lincoln" tells a great story that expands the cultural conversation about Lincoln and the "fate of human dignity." I would argue that, in the context of historical fiction, fidelity to the general bent of history and its lessons is much more important than slavish dedication to dates and facts. Obviously that sort of thinking has produced works very controversial films, as different as "The Birth of a Nation" and "Glory." But every movie should be judged on its own merits, and I think "Lincoln" passes the smell test. Anyway. A few gripes follow:

--Lincoln felt a little too modern. His views on racial equality are left pretty unspecific, which leaves us as viewers to project our own opinions onto him. This makes him seem much more racially progressive than he was. There's one borderline cringe-worthy scene in which Lincoln asks Elizabeth Keckley (Mary's servant and a former slave) about what "her people" will do once they are free. But other than this Lincoln is left as something of a cipher, as far as his opinions on true equality for blacks and whites.

--The scenes in which Lincoln interacts with Mary or Robert are well done, and include important characterizing moments for Lincoln, but don't come to much plot-wise. I should mention, also, that Mary isn't treated very well. She gets one chance to talk crap at Thaddeus Stephens, but comes off as petty more than empowered.

--There seem to be significant problems with the timeline, and some sleight of hand with the historical sequence of events to ratchet up tension. The peace commissioners from Richmond, who in the movie seem to languish for a long stretch at City Point and Hampton Roads, were not even named by Jefferson Davis until January 28, and did not cross federal lines until January 30, just one day before the 13th amendment came to a vote.

--The Hampton Roads conference, with the aforementioned confederate peace commissioners, has been misrepresented. The fundamental difference between Lincoln and the confederates, in the film, is the 13th amendment. But the conversations were doomed from the beginning--the confederates were not interested in peace without independence. Lincoln, of course, demanded reunion.

--There was an explicit mention of Lincoln's interactions with manacled slaves on a flatboat trip he took as a young man to New Orleans. In the context of the film, the story grounds Lincoln's anti-slavery sentiment and helps explain why he regards slavery as evil. But the story is apocryphal. Lincoln did ride to New Orleans as a young man, though there is no reliable documentation as to what interactions with slaves, if any, he had there. The inclusion of this story is more a case of poetic license, though.

No comments:

Post a Comment