I was struck by the depth and detail of this film. It demands a lot of the audience, and even though I thought I knew a good deal about Lincoln and the Civil War, as the movie progressed I steadily became aware that I didn't know as much as I thought I did. Oh, I could keep up with the thrust of the story - but I could also tell that there was a lot of detail there that I just wasn't fully appreciating.
So I went out afterward and bought the Doris Kearns Goodwin book Team of Rivals, which reportedly served as a primary source for the script, and read it. It's a wonderful book, very rich in details about Lincoln as a politician and a man. And while the Civil War is delved into in some depth, almost none of the narrative is about battles - at least - not the military kind. But it is filled much detail of the political battles both before, and during the war. No one can finish this book without having gained a much greater appreciation for the role and significance of the politics during this time.
But what struck me the most about reading this book was the portrait of Abraham Lincoln as a real person, in a real time, that emerges from its more than 700 pages. By the time you reach the end, you've seen quite a journey of transformation unfold before your eyes. And it's a journey at once profound and sublime. One that affirms every hopeful feeling you've ever had for the possibility of human growth and personal development.
The book is filled with fascinating characters and personalities, completely captivating stories, and themes that leave you deep in thought hours after finishing many chapters. Names that are vaguely remembered suddenly become full formed figures that will never be forgotten. William Seward, Edwin Stanton, Salmon Chase, and on and on - they're all there. Each fully alive for your mind to meet.
But of all the relationships experienced in this book, none caught my imagination and fascination more that that of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. They didn't meet until well into the Civil War, and that's almost certainly a good thing. Had they met as younger men, the odds are high that they wouldn't have been able to absorb each other like they did as more mature men.
Their story is quite interesting, and illustrative of not just the potential for intellectual and spiritual evolution in people, but of the very unique American form of that general human characteristic. Characteristics framed by culture and history. I will be writing more on this special relationship soon. Stay tuned.