“Don’t speak to me about grief!” Abraham Lincoln commands his wife, Mary Todd, played by Sally Field in the film “Lincoln.” Mrs. Lincoln fell into a deep depression following the death of her son Willie, and though the Lincoln family had four children, only Robert survived to have children of his own. Abraham Lincoln himself grieved deeply for his personal losses despite battling the south during the Civil War. A great book, “Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness,” written by Joshua Wolf Shenk, details the deep depression which haunted Lincoln throughout his life, and Shenk characterizes how Lincoln’s personal battles determined his greatness as a president.

Indeed, throughout “Lincoln,” directed by Steven Spielberg, the audience is privy to a very human, flawed depiction of the visionary 16th President of the United States with the title role played by the incomparable Daniel Day-Lewis. At one point toward the end of the film, perhaps presaging his death, Lincoln laments, “Some weariness has bit at my bones.”

In this way “Lincoln” intricately interweaves both deft and subtle touches. The opening scene, the only battle scene in the film, shows Lincoln reviewing the troops, including both blacks and whites, and two soldiers come up to thank the president for all his inspirational words by reciting back to him the Gettysburg Address. In terming this address one of the most important speeches ever delivered, James McPherson called it, “the world’s foremost statement of freedom and democracy and the sacrifices required to achieve and defend them.”

Even though the film was a bit of a history lesson for me, it never felt turgid, stilted or plodding. Almost everyone knows that Lincoln was assassinated not long after winning a second term in office, but those who are not history buffs may not be aware of the intense political maneuvering in the final few months of his life. He had already issued the Emancipation Proclamation, but Lincoln wasn’t certain it was enough to secure freedom for all slaves. In effect, the debate was that the Proclamation seized all property from the seceding states, and slaves were considered property at that time, but it was unclear what would happen to those slaves once the Civil War ended.

It was imperative for Congress to pass the 13th Amendment, to clearly free the slaves yet backlash at the time was fierce. It turned out Lincoln and his advisors were not above “greasing the wheel,” offering patronage jobs for votes. Thaddeus Stevens, the foremost abolitionist of that era, played by Tommy Lee Jones, was forced to clarify his position in front of the entire Legislature to pronounce whether he supported “equality in all things, or only equality before the law.” This turned out to be a very important distinction.

My only critical comment was that the film’s climatic moment occurs right at the very end of the war, and it was unnecessary to include Lincoln’s assassination at the Ford theater in Washington while watching “Our American Cousin” on Good Friday, 1865.

For many, Lincoln and the Civil War have become what I would term a “dead event,” no longer resonating with those in our country who would just as soon forget the past. The movie “Lincoln” sweeps all that aside, making us care very much once again for this president and about this fateful period in history.

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