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At the Movies with Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln PosterLast week, Elaina (Education Assistant/Miss Gordon at the Farmstead) and I waited in a long line for a chance to see a free sneak preview of Lincoln. After all, we are history nerds and we’re cheap. As we finally made our way into the theater, we ran into museum friends from The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, the Dallas Historical Society and the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History and Culture. I shouldn’t have been so surprised to see them—after all, history museum employees are naturally attracted to such occasions.

So, what did we think of said movie, set to open on November 16? Loosely based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals (which I haven’t read, Elaina has), the movie focuses on the last months of Lincoln’s life and his struggle to pass the 13th Amendment. It is a very good movie, but it’s not a great movie. Daniel Day Lewis is uncanny as Lincoln—we didn’t know whether to be impressed or slightly unnerved. Sally Field isn’t quite right as Mary Todd Lincoln, but at least they captured the complexities of her personality. There is a huge cast of big name actors, and you will find yourself saying “Is that so-and-so under that crazy 1860s facial hair?” But the sets and costumes are accurate to their last detail (Elaina recognized several dresses from the collection of the Atlanta History Center: http://www.atlantahistorycenter.com/cms/Textiles+and+Social+History/73.html#). And we both drooled a little bit over the telegraph office set-up—we’d love to have something like that at the Village! The movie focuses mostly on one particular piece of Team of Rivals, but leaves out some information about who all of the rivals actually are. Some of that fabulous 1860s facial hair was on some really important guys who were only occasionally identified.

What I really loved about the movie is how funny it is. Yes, funny. We know, but often forget, that Lincoln loved a good joke or story. And Tony Kushner, scriptwriter, used this to his advantage. The language used during the House debates on the Amendment is harsh and insulting enough to make our current political debates look downright civil. They used lots of words and insults that I’d love to see return to our modern vocabulary. The best part of all of those insults and words is that a lot of them were taken from actual comments made on the house floor during the debates featured.

The ending is a wee bit cheesy, but it is Steven Spielberg telling the story of Abraham Lincoln, so a bit of cheese is to be expected. But it was certainly worth standing in line for, and it will be worth buying a ticket in a few weeks.

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