News / Arts & Entertainment

Director Steven Spielberg Brings New Life to President Abraham Lincoln

Penelope Poulou
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln deviates from the traditional portrayal of the 16th U.S. president by fleshing out the mind of a person willing to risk everything for the abolition of slavery. Spielberg based his film on parts of Team of Rivals, a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin. He makes Abraham Lincoln relevant today by presenting a cunning political mind navigating Washington's all too familiar divisions, gridlock, and power plays.

For about a century, Lincoln was portrayed as a monumental figure. In D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of A Nation, he is statuesque. In John Ford’s 1939 film, Young Mr. Lincoln, he is folksy and robotic.

Spielberg’s Lincoln is different.  

“I was determined to make a movie about a working president not a posing president," Spielberg said.

We watch the president first ending slavery and then the war.

In the museum at Ford’s Theater, where the 16th President was assassinated, historian Eric Martin explains how Lincoln's thought process evolved.

“His first and foremost objective when the war began was not the freeing of the slaves but ultimately the preservation of the Union. Lincoln realizes that in order to attain his military goal of ultimately preserving and saving the Union, the question of slavery will have to be addressed,” Martin said.

The film focuses on the last four months of his presidency.

In the movie, the jockeying for votes in Congress to pass the amendment feels eerily similar to today’s wrangling on Capitol Hill.  

The arguments in the House of Representatives were bitter.

The film turns to Lincoln’s relationships with his wife and kids, his convictions and constant self-examination. Daniel Day-Lewis offers an Oscar-worthy performance as the 16th President. Not only does he bear an uncanny resemblance to the president, he inhabits the character.

“In his book, Euclid says, ‘this is self-evident.’ You see there it is, even in that 2000 year-old book of mechanical law. It is a self-evident truth that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other,” Day-Lewis said.

"It's the man himself that invites you. Because he was so open. That was one of the most beautiful surprises, getting to know him, was how insanely accessible that man was. The time was actually physically very dangerous in his case to be accessible but the White House was an ever open door," Day-Lewis said.

Spielberg’s Lincoln will head to the Oscars. But more important, it will make history.

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Comment Sorting
by: Zack Mandell
December 04, 2012 10:34 AM
This was a really interesting <a href="">movie</a> for me. I was really surprised when I heard about it but was really impressed with it

by: Violet P. Levinson from: Martinez, CA 94553
November 29, 2012 6:25 PM
I appreciate those people who used this opportunity to illuminate the negative aspects of Lincoln's power while in office. However, the review of a film is usually focused on aspects of the film itself, and those people involved in portraying the singular purpose of the film with dramatic structure. Did the director pursue this purpose with clarity and intelligence is my only criteria. Thanks for the history lesson, anyhow, but I don't expect films to be history lessons. My only expectation of a Hollywood film that is not a documentary, is to raise awareness of some, not all, facts in a historical context.

by: Rick Kohn from: Long Beach, CA
November 27, 2012 3:26 AM
I watched the movie and read up on Abraham Lincoln afterwards, and found a lot of flaws. Best review of this film is by Alec Ryan.

by: Violet Levinson from: Martinez, CA
November 24, 2012 10:09 PM
What an inspiring interpretation of the man we all know as Abraham Lincoln. This movie is relevant to the times in which we now live.
It illuminates the basic structure of our government in contentious times and brings to life important figures of times past connecting to this year of political and social progress. Spielberg interprets not only the politics of those years but also shows aspects of the relationships of Mr. Lincoln and his family involving energetic disagreements with his wife. In this film Mr. Lincoln lives and breathes . I became emotionally connected to the man and his struggles. I cheered when his battle was won and I cried when his life was cut short. By all means this film is the best picture of the year in every respect---its theme, its structure, and all the elements of the drama.
In Response

by: Rain Saturday from: Savannah, Ga
November 27, 2012 10:13 PM
Someone asked me if I was going to see the new President Lincoln movie....had to laugh. Lincoln of hollywood movies is a great American Myth, propaganda. He was a multi~tasking president though. He freed the slaves, "The Great Emancipator" which was a great thing.....I mean after all, how can you have a country where "ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL", when they really aren't....right? SO, he freed the slaves with one hand & ordered the continuation of genocide against the Native American Indians for their lands with the other. ~"On December 26, 1862, the Great Emancipator ordered the largest mass execution in American History, where the guilt of those to be executed was entirely in doubt. Regardless of how Lincoln defenders seek to play this, it was nothing more than murder to obtain the land of the Santee Sioux & to appease his political cronies in Minnesota." Originally, "authorities in Minnesota wanted 303 Sioux males executed (these men were found guilty, without proper legal representation & a short trial of about 10 minutes each)." "Lincoln was concerned with how this would play with the Europeans, whom he was afraid were about to enter the war on the side of the South. He offered the following compromise to the politicians of Minnesota: They would pare the list of those to be hung down to 39. In return, Lincoln promised to kill or remove every Indian from the state and provide Minnesota with 2 million dollars in federal funds. He only owed the Sioux 1.4 million for the land."
"In 1862, the Santee Sioux of Minnesota grew tired of waiting for the 1.4 million dollars they had been promised for the sale of 24 million acres of land to the federal government in 1851. Appeals to President Lincoln fell on deaf ears. What made this even more egregious to the Sioux was the invasion of this yet unpaid for land by thousands of white settlers. Then, with a very poor crop in august of 1862, many of the Indians were hungry & facing starvation with the upcoming winter."
"When Lincoln outright refused to pay the owed money, he had a Civil war to finance the Indians revolted. Lincoln assigned General John Pope to quell the uprising and he announced at the beginning of his campaign: "It is my purpose to utterly exterminate the Sioux. They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, & by no means as people with whom treaties or compromise can be made. Lincoln certainly did not challenge this statement." ~Micheal Gaddy, Sierra Times 2003
People have always tried to rewrite history....all of our history books are mostly pure American propaganda.......they have whitewashed (yes, pun intended) our own National history, this doesn't make it true or accurate. Actually, it just makes it FICTIONALIZED~ based on real characters. As far as the truth, one may whitewash it, ignore it, lock it away or bury it. No matter how long it may take, the truth always uncovers itself. I am Algonkin, & Cherokee & whatever else ancestry from Europe came before they reached the shores of Virginia.....NO, I am not full blood Native Indian, BUT, I am very proud of my Native American Indian roots here in this land~ so haters on both sides can hate. My heart is pure Native, I am sick, tired & ashamed of the injustices & atrocities brought upon our original citizens, the first citizens of this land. AS a country, as a nation, we will never be truly great & we will never truly be free until WE ALL ARE FREE. I am surprised that Steven Spielberg, after his work w/ Schindler's List, being of Jewish descent would continue the propagandized version of our American history. Just as the Jews endured the Holocaust, genocide & concentration camps, our Native American Indians have endured the same Holocaust~ the American Holocaust, except the have endured it for hundreds of years now & still to this day have less civil rights, less than optimal living conditions & lack of healthcare the average common U.S. citizen is entitled to.

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