By Matthew Rothschild on November 26, 2012

So I’d heard all about “Lincoln,” and how great the movie was, but when I saw it over the weekend, I was snorely disappointed.

Viewer Beware, 1: It’s tediously long. I struggled to stay awake, my 20-year-old son dozed off, and even my wife, who said she liked the movie, crashed before the ending.

Viewer Beware, 2: It’s misnamed. The title should be “Lincoln and the Passage of the 13th Amendment.” Unless you’re fascinated by the legislative process, and unless you’re oddly curious about the obscure Senators who were trying to block the amendment and the lengths to which Lincoln went to get it passed, this movie is not for you. And if you’re expecting a biopic about Lincoln, you’re way out of luck.

Calling the History Department, 1: The film depicts Lincoln as being forever and deeply anti-slavery, which is a distortion, as this quote from 1862 in his letter to Horace Greeley proves:

"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union." Playwright Tony Kushner (whom I usually love) knew about this quote, and has Lincoln obliquely wish it away in the script. Sorry, that’s not kosher, Kushner.

Calling the History Department, 2: Lincoln suffered from depression. It would have served the cause of accuracy and mental-health awareness if Steven Spielberg and Kushner had included this.

Calling the History Department, 3: Where was Frederick Douglass? Lincoln had an important friendship with the great black freedom fighter, an amazing figure unto himself, but there is no Frederick Douglass in this film—and, for that matter, no strong African American who is neither a soldier nor a house servant, with all of them positioned in subservience.

OK, but what about Daniel Day-Lewis?

Even here, I wasn’t blown away. His Lincoln is two-dimensional: either the kind, avuncular storyteller, the loving father, and the indulgent husband (to the excellent Sally Field) or the stern, I-mean-business chief executive. Day-Lewis oscillates between the two, and it gets sticky and schticky, with Spielberg fawning over Day-Lewis’s gangly gait.

Two stars max.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “Warnings Pile Up Before Qatar Climate Talks."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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