Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a tortured soul. His wife, Mary (Sally Field), lingers on the edge of insanity, grieving for their youngest son, Willy. Abe's just been re-elected to preside over this social experiment called democracy, and civil war has killed hundreds of thousands of the nation's men. Lincoln's cross to bear is his higher calling — to end human bondage — a burden that is likely to kill him whether he succeeds or not.
Making things even more complicated is the fact that Lincoln knows the North is nearly ready to claim victory, having decimated the South. But he also knows that the end of the war does not ensure the end of slavery. Lincoln knows he must achieve both by amending the Constitution, but will a war-torn nation soar on the winds of change or be blown to bits?
Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) is the staunchest abolitionist in Washington, but his radical, progressive viewpoints polarize other politicians. Though many leaders in this tumultuous period abhorred slavery, they couldn't see how freed blacks would fit into this changed America and feared the former slaves would soon get the right to vote (if blacks could vote, who next — women?). While Lincoln humbly admitted he didn't know how a multiracial society would work, he knew it must for the young nation to survive.
There is little action in Steven Spielberg's latest film tackling history; instead, Spielberg opens up Lincoln's skull, and we get to watch the gears of his morally and intellectually gifted brain spin. This is literally a lesson on how to solve complicated socioeconomic and racial issues, and it's not for the faint of heart. Only a true hero — a true American — can cross this divide.
Sally Field is a whirlwind of emotion and devastation as the sharp-tongued, depressive first lady. Mary Todd was a difficult woman, but her convictions and her flaws only made Abraham stronger. The scene where the couple face off about grief and he threatens to send her to the madhouse gives me chills even days later. It is decidedly the most brilliant, most electrifying moment I've seen on film all year.
I eagerly saw Lincoln the day after a black man, Barack Obama, was re-elected president of the United States. The connection between the two events could not have been clearer. Our nation continues to move toward progress, toward equality, but at a maddeningly slow pace.
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