I'd been delving into pre US Civil War history already, fleshing out my sketchy knowledge of the Quakers' saga, which forms a fine trunk through which to branch out into much of US history, as Human Smoke is disclosing (I'm reading it on my Kindle).
As David Prideaux explained it at meeting (Stark Street), this is not an epic battle movie, like Waterloo, nor a biography of Lincoln, so much as a dramatization of the machinations surrounding the the passing of the 13th amendment to the US Constitution.
How did that come about?
Lincoln is well spoken, and played as an intuitive by Danny Day-Lewis. He's loved by the people but, as important, he is respected by his inner circle, even as they feel free to open up to him with divergent views.
He lives with a democratic demeanor, not as a lord or superior. He tells stories. He seizes the moment, and takes control. There's a chief executive aspect, which comes out in his lengthy soliloquies about the law and his doubts about the lawfulness of what he has already done to set the slaves free, as property of a rebellious enemy. He's confiscating enemy assets by using his war powers, but now he wants a longer lasting civilian version that will long outlast these more freakish circumstances.
African Americans have already been fighting and dying in Grant's army. How could any peace be developed which involved returning former slaves to their original estate? Unless some law could decree an end to and/or outlaw slavery, a ratcheting back might solidify a state of disunion, rather than unify a state under a shared standard.
The House of Representatives is another main theater or continued scene / setting for this film. Here we listen in on the patriarchs who seem so like these anthropomorphic animals, cartoon characters.
I'm thinking of Blacksad, the comic strip and graphic novel. The scene here was comic in that same way, in the sense of exaggeration or caricature -- not because of unfaithfulness to the true past. Lets remember Dante's "divine comedy" is a book about Hell.
The audience laughed when everyone in that chamber (except the Tommy Lee Jones character and some others) loudly booed the idea of a vote for women -- what might happen after black men got the vote, heaven forbid (if ever, centuries from then).
Sally Fields was strong, and again the audience laughed, with empathy, when she said "all history will remember of me is I was crazy".
Indeed, when history gets tightly focused and everyone knows they're in the eye of the storm so to speak, there's a tendency to play to the unseen audience, the future if you will. To vote for the 13th amendment was to make a statement in the eyes of some anonymous future America, another tomorrow, a projected United States.
To enshrine anti-slavery edicts within a standard bearer for democratic forms of democracy, was to answer the call of logic and self consistency. How could a democracy with an "all men created equal" premise forever deny itself the consequences of such a philosophy? The war would end when cognitive dissonance was lowered -- that seemed the gist of Lincoln's therapy.
I was seeing this as a 2nd exercise of an emerging Quaker practice involving seeing movies together (maybe plays, standup comics) and discussing them, blogging about them. Robert joined us in that capacity. I hope to get him together with Steve for some followup conversation. Cloud Atlas was our earlier trial run and has resulted in some emailed group discussions.