Spielberg’s 'Lincoln,' Obama, And The 2012 Presidential Election: 'Everybody Claims Lincoln As Their Own'
It's easy to draw parallels to President Obama in Steven Spielberg’s historical Oscar hopeful Lincoln, a portrait of the 16th American President who stood tall, orated well, united a divided nation across color and party lines, and was re-elected to office for a second term. But Spielberg insists he had no specific political agenda in mind when the long-gestating Lincoln came to fruition.
“I would have been very glad to have made Lincoln in the year 2000,” Spielberg explained recently in Los Angeles, “the year after I met [author Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln was adapted by Lincoln scribe Tony Kushner]. It took her a couple years to write the book. It took us more than a couple years to get the screenplay written. So, I wasn’t waiting for a certain time.”
The divided politics of Lincoln’s presidency, as explored at length in Spielberg’s film, find pointed parallels in President Obama’s tenure in the White House: A President with a humanistic streak tasked with bringing war to an end, Lincoln is depicted wrestling with military crises, huge wartime losses of life, moral questions of personal freedoms, Constitutional history-making, all-too eager rivals, and, notably, his own family issues at home. Still, Spielberg says the Obama-Lincoln parallels have nothing to do with it.
“At one point I flirted with coming out on the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, but we weren’t ready to make the picture then,” said Spielberg, who spent years wooing star Daniel Day-Lewis and had even resigned himself to not making Lincoln without the actor. “People say ‘Oh, you made it because of what’s happening in politics today.’ No, we were ready to make it during the Bush administration. It had had nothing to do current politics.”
That’s not to say no inference at all should be drawn into Lincoln’s messaging as a reflection of modern politics; it’s just that, despite “tremendous similarities” between politics in the time of Lincoln and today, reading too much into the details might be confusing because of how much the intervening 14 decades have altered America’s political system.
“There’s a lot of confusion about the political ideologies of both parties, [which] have switched 180 degrees in 150 years,” he explained. “It’s just too confusing. Everybody claims Lincoln as their own. And everybody should claim Lincoln as their own, because he represents all of us, and what he did basically provided the opportunities that, that all of us are enjoying today.”
So while a theatrical release on Friday should bring President Lincoln and his legend to vivid life in the wake of Tuesday’s Obama re-election, those few extra buffer days allowed Spielberg to get some distance from the real-life Presidential race.
“I just wanted people to talk about the film, not talk about the election cycle. So I thought it was safer to let people talk about film during the election cycle in this run-up with ads on TV and posters going up and all that, but the actual debut of the film should happen after the election’s been decided. That was my feeling.”
Despite peeling the curtain back on Lincoln — the film reveals intimate glimpses of his home life and career, but leaves ambiguous the fringe theories of his sexuality, as hinted at by Kushner in an interview with Metro — Spielberg is happy to continue letting people talk and wonder at any deeper messages seeded within what he otherwise says was meant only to be a portrait of a great figure in American history.
“I’m really excited to see how deeply people will reach to contemporize our film,” he said with a smile, “far beyond how it deserves to be contemporized.”
Lincoln closes the 2012 AFI Fest on Thursday.