And boy, was he tall!
So, I’d heard that it was a good movie. I’d also heard that, surprisingly enough, it didn’t flinch from showing Lincoln and his contemporaries doing some real conniving in order to make sure the 13th Amendment passed in the House of Representatives, but in spite of the politicking, it maintained an incredibly idealistic tone.
I wasn’t sure what to expect other than fantastic performances, but I have to say that I was impressed. I was riveted from beginning to end (except for the assassination scene, because really, we all know how Lincoln was assassinated; I didn’t need to see another version of it).
The reason I was so taken with this movie was entirely the dialogue. Yes, the sets and costuming were great, and yes, the performances were excellent, but the dialogue was just so rich. Lincoln and his wife sit in their bedroom discussing the rift that’s come between them since the death of their son, Willie. This is a serious, highly emotional fight, but their words are so incredibly eloquent! I wish I had a better ear for remembering dialogue, because every sentence was just so rich and so packed with these incredible descriptions and turns of phrase. In the midst of a fight like this, they just ramble off these sentences that drip with precision and linguistic flair. I’m jealous of the fluidity; when I’m in the middle of a fight, I have difficulty finding any words, let alone something so sharp. I dream of being able to speak the way the people in this movie do.
And I’m not just talking about the intensely personal scenes. The scenes in the House are phenomenal! Even though the debate is heated, and both sides clearly despise one another, the preeminent feeling I got from those scenes was one of unadulterated pleasure in one’s ability to turn a clever phrase. I could sit and listen to those congressmen insult each other all day.
At the risk of being nostalgic about my college days (I swore I’d never be a nostalgic alumnus who invaded campus perennially just because I wanted to relive the good old days; I now live in my old college town and have a sizable number of friends who either still are or recently were in college, so you be the judge of how well that oath’s holding up), I’ll tell a little bit about an organization that I joined while I was in school.
The University of Georgia has a pair of organizations called the Demosthenian Literary Society and the Phi Kappa Literary Society. The former was founded in 1803 as a group devoted to the practice of oratory, debate, and other pursuits related to the elevation of the art of rhetoric. The Phi Kappa Literary Society was founded in 1820 by former Demosthenians who decided that the other Society just wasn’t up to snuff. And thus was born a grand rivalry that continues to this day because college kids are only slightly more mature than high schoolers.
I joined Phi Kappa mostly because some of my friends had joined, and I’m an excellent follower. Like the speakers in Lincoln, I was captivated by the way these people (who were my peers) practiced and refined their skills as orators, debaters, and storytellers. Of course, I’m still talking about college kids, so while there were many spectacular speakers among the members, we were still amateurs.
I mostly sat in the back and tried not to draw attention to myself except for once every three weeks when I had to take the floor and talk about something or else I’d be in trouble with the group. That was nerve-wracking, but it was part of the experience, and I like to think now that I spend my days standing in front of students who most of the time don’t care what I’m talking about that it was good practice for my career.
But that’s all a tangent that serves only to say that I really love seeing people saying witty things.
So that’s what I loved about Lincoln. It was a highly idealistic film with a lot of scenes meant to tug on your patriot strings, and that’s all well and good. For me, it was enough to see a bunch of people speaking extemporaneously better than I can manage with some rehearsal and revisions.