Artistically, Spielberg is at the top of his game. His usual collaborators are in fine form. John Williams' gorgeous score is mature and understated when it could have so easily overpowered the film's intimate ambiance. The excellent cinematography by Janusz Kaminski is similarly understated, in muted tones of greys, blues, and browns (with the occasional burst of red, white and blue). Spielberg's art directors, production designers and costume designers perfectly capture the look and feel of 1865 Washington. It's a place where canes and corsets prevail, handlebar moustaches are grown unironically, and everything is just a little bit creaky and covered in dust, fireplace soot, and tobacco smoke.
Lincoln is a masterpiece of period filmmaking, immersing the viewer in a pivotal period in American history through the eyes of one of its most iconic figures. From the acting to the language to the costumes (of course Lincoln wore a shawl on those cold nights in the White House!), nothing feels false in this film. For a filmmaker like Spielberg—who has been known to over-sentimentalize his material—Lincoln represents an impressively mature, restrained work. Apart from a few too many endings (Spielberg's Achilles heel), it's a very focused, concise treatment of a huge topic.
The film is bookended by two of Lincoln's iconic speeches, opening with the aforementioned Gettysburg Address and ending with the iconic "with malice toward none, with charity for all" section from Lincoln's second inaugural address. The latter—with its resolve to "strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds"—builds on the hopes of the former, with its desire to launch a "new birth of freedom" that will justify the blood shed by so many. In these two speeches we see how tragic and yet how inspirational is the story of Lincoln. He did much as president to bind up the nation's wounds, and yet he died well before he could see the full legacy of the work in which he and others labored.
We see that legacy today, however. And Spielberg's beautiful film helps us see it more clearly than ever.
- What can Christians learn about the methods Lincoln used to accomplish the change he sought?
- Can shady tactics and some measure of dishonesty be tolerated if necessary to achieve a "greater good" end?
- What moment in the film gave you the most insight into Lincoln the man?
The Family Corner
For parents to consider
Lincoln is rated PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language. It is a great film for the almost whole family; little ones may be disturbed by scenes of war carnage and violence. But aside from that and some strong language, it's a clean, family-friendly film, an excellent, compelling look into an important era in American history. It should offer much for families and students of all ages to discuss.