Abraham Lincoln, Bare Hands, Irony and Basic Truth
Steven Spielberg has directed a long list of acclaimed historical films, only the latest of which is Lincoln, nominated for 12 Academy Awards. Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, and Warhorse presumably took considerable time to research the events and personalities. Audiences allow writers, directors and producers poetic license to make the changes they deem necessary for the story to flow and make the points they want to emphasize; they also demand enough of a permeating truth to convince the audience to accept the director’s conclusions.
In Lincoln, which took screenwriter Tony Kushner six years of research to come up with his convincing script, there is a glaring change made by the writer presumably to send a message to the audience about Abraham Lincoln and his personality, motivations, and impact on those around him.
A little known fact about Abraham Lincoln is that as the Civil War was ending, he chose to be in the Confederate capital of Richmond as it fell to the Union soldiers, despite warnings from his advisors who were concerned about his safety. In a letter found in the Shapell Manuscript Foundation written by Lincoln to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton the President states:
“Yours received. Thanks for your caution; but I have already been to Petersburg, staid with Gen. Grant an hour & a half and returned here. It is certain now that Richmond is in our hands, and I think I will go there to-morrow. I will take care of myself.”
It is ironic that in just barely over a week’s time Lincoln would be murdered right in Washington, DC.
Although it is well known that Lincoln wore his white kid gloves to the performance at Ford’s Theater where he met his tragic end in April, 1865, the film shows him deliberately removing those gloves and leaving them behind.
This is in stark contrast to the scene earlier in the film in which Lincoln dons the gloves, despite his distaste in wearing them, in order to please his wife and adhere to the custom of the day of wearing gloves at formal occasions. Including details like this, and changing the known historic fact indicates to the audience that the screenwriter and director want the audience to learn something more important about Lincoln than whether or not he actually died with his gloves on. Perhaps that message is that Lincoln, after the trials and tribulations of the Civil War, and all the other world-shattering events which he needed to navigate through, was able to go past the mere conventions of his day, (think slavery) and see the greater moral imperative of doing what is truly right and true in a universal, global sense. Lincoln, at the moment of his death, had achieved a triumph of good over evil and truth over falsehood, thus exposed hands, un-gloved, revealing all.