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Lincoln Review: To Care for Him Who Shall Have Borne the Battle

By Daniel Carlson | Film Reviews | November 16, 2012 | Comments ()

As with Spielberg's other films about our uncomfortable history, he's able to show how what once passed as victories can feel like something less when we look back. When Stevens stands up for abolition, his opponents warn their fellow representatives of the slippery slope they're on, scaring them into submission with tales of women being allowed to vote and black citizens being elected to office. Such rhetoric can seem laughable now, or at least lamentable, but Spielberg never paints the men making the arguments as buffoons. They aren't cartoon villains: they're simply people who believe, deep down, in what they're saying. By humanizing them, by keeping the action firmly rooted in the real, Spielberg turns any potential judgment back onto us. We look back on these talks and hang our heads, but what will our descendants think of us in a century? When Lincoln speaks of how abolition will benefit not only those currently in bondage but the "unborn millions to come," it's impossible not to hear Itzhak Stern telling Oskar Schindler that "whoever saves one life, saves the world entire." Abolition was a step, not a goal, and Lincoln is a reminder of how far we've come even as we have so far to go. Of how we can destroy ourselves, and how we can be made new again.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. You can also find him on Twitter.

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