Some Quick Thoughts on 'Lincoln'

1.) You should see it. 


2.) There are some valid critiques, many of which I look forward to discussing in the coming days.

3.) One quick critique of my own: I think the film doesn't spend enough time thinking about the problem of compromise and radicalism in politics. I really would have liked to see the film wrestle with Lincoln's racism, and wrestle with his oft-stated desire to see blacks colonized. 

Here is something more uncomfortable I would have liked to see it wrestle with—Lincoln's overly generous terms for reconstituting the union. There is an argument that the light hand approach to the South—compromise—was ultimately disastrous. I'm not quite convinced. I don't know that the American people had it in them to commit to real reconstruction. 

But all that means is that there's tension. There's meat. I felt the film should have grappled with that tension instead of pitching radical idealism as mere naiveté. It's a popular opinion in these times, but one which would see someone like Frederick Douglass dismissed as ridiculous.

4.) Tony Kushner was at the screening, this afternoon. I asked him about this. He thinks Lincoln wasn't serious about colonization. I disagree.

5.) I thought the opening—a gripping visceral battle in which we see the colored troop fighting, and telling the president why they took no Confederate prisoners—took tremendous courage. I thought that scene alone did everything Glory couldn't at the time. The soldiers didn't appear as tropes, but as actual soldiers.

6.) I though the ending—featuring Lincoln 1864 inaugural address—was almost as brave. The 1864 inaugural might be the most radical statement on race ever delivered by president. 

7.) Daniel Day Lewis—and really the entire cast—was phenomenal.

8.) I was crying at the end. That's been happening a lot lately.

9.) Lincoln is a tremendous artistic achievement. It may well be a larger achievement for professional historians of the war. In a time of Hell On Wheels, this is the first big piece of art I've seen in a while which steadfastly rejects Lost Cause-ism.

10.) This post would have been up sooner. But Cambridge lost power. I think I'm not supposed to live on a coast.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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