So the multitude goes, like the flower and the weed
That wither away to let others succeed;
So the multitude comes, even those we behold,
To repeat every tale that hath often been told.
–A poem President Lincoln loved enough he once said about it, “I would give all I am worth, and go in debt, to be able to write so fine a piece as I think that is”
Most of the time, Oscar voters and audiences do not put the year’s best films in the context of our time. We throw around words like “zeitgeist” and “timely” and “relevant” but what we really mean is that we can find something in them that applies to the world around us. It can sometimes be the world defined by a filmmaker — taking place in another time, in another country. Or it can be a world defined by history.
More people know about the daily comings and goings of Lindsay Lohan than they do the ongoing war in Afghanistan, brought about by an eager beaver neocon presidential administration using the war on terror as their battle cry. Soldiers and civilians continue to die as we wait out one more long year before troops will be pulled. This, the last wave of the Bush administration legacy. That legacy, it seems, has birthed the films most likely to compete for this year’s Best Picture Oscar.
Lincoln is about the Civil War but it’s also about the ongoing conflict between the two Americas, about a savage, brutal and senseless war over slavery and how opposing side defended “white power” by murdering one of our greatest presidents. When President Bush left and President Obama ran for office, the McCain campaign had the choice to use Obama’s race against him or not. McCain nixed it. He warned that heading in that direction would be dangerous for the Republican party. That’s how they tell it in Game Change, anyway. But four years later, a slow economy gave rise to fear and hatred of the kind not seen since the Civil War. Though planned by Spielberg and Tony Kushner a decade earlier, Lincoln found himself once again in the middle of a fight between North and South, red states and blue states. His words echo like screams in a rock canyon right up to now. It isn’t just Spielberg’s popularity bringing people to the multiplex, and it isn’t just the good reviews, but it’s the lanky leader himself, our true north, showing us the way.
Spielberg rightly wanted to release the film after the election so that it wouldn’t become a lightning rod for either side. The Republicans in Lincoln’s time stood for freedom. Today, they stand for anything but. Aaron Sorkin said of 2012 that it was the most divided the country has been since the Civil War. It remains divided.