Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Evil of Compromise

Just came back from viewing Spielberg's "Lincoln".

  A pretty darned good film, if inaccurate in many places. In fact I read a review beforehand wherein the writer was complaining about the making of Lincoln, as usual, into a hero, when we all know by now that  he suspended habeus corpus,and that  he harbored just as racist an outlook as most northerners of the day (even abolitionists), unable to conceive of  blacks having the vote or running for congress, for example.

But "Lincoln" isn't really about the 16th POTUS, any more than Eisenstein's  Battleship Potemkin is about a boat and a staircase, or than the Wizard of Oz is the last word on the courage of lions. There are films that stick specifically to the topic covered--and even then hold hidden meanings--but they tend to be very dry documentaries.  Every other film is a statement of a director about the world he or she lives in, encompassing visions of actors, cinematographers, costumers, score writers and any other artists involved of the director's own plan.

Frequently, Eisenstein's films perhaps the best example, a film will voice a political view.  Or it may just be historic, or both, like the cringe-worthy "Birth of a Nation" or "All the President's Men" (or even "All the King's Men", from which Woodward & Bernstein got the title of the book upon which "APM" was based).  But even in the purely historical films, one can usually see the veneer of the era in which the movie was made superimposed, in whatever degree of transparency, upon the veneer of the era in which the movie takes place.

There are several scenes in "Lincoln" that take place in what might be the WH office now, filled with telephones.  In "Lincoln", it's filled with telegraph machines in 2 lines on 2 lines of desks with partitions.  Yes, Lincoln's communication base was apparently a cube farm.  The scene is comparable to several in "The Social Network", with the staff of life being news about the war as opposed to number of Facebook members.  But even if that film didn't inform those scenes, modern office life, including it's hairbrained hectic pace, and the need to harvest news as quickly as possible by the most modern technological means, must have.

But I think the real connection critics and 23rd century historians will make between the realities of today and this film will be between Tommie Lee Jones' manic portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens, along with his experiences in the House of Representatives, and todays' highly publicized vitriolic discourse among the current community of wags inhabiting Capitol Hill today.  It's not the fighting, which is at times is an adrenaline rush, and at times hilarious (such as Stevens telling a fellow rep, "No, of course I do not believe all men are equal.  You, for example . . ." and then going on a tirade about what a worm the other guy is.)  It's the agony we see in Jones' face as Stevens realizes more and more the degree to which he'll have to betray his own beliefs, and to act as though he walks in step with the most odious racists in Congress, in order to ensure the permanent free status of slaves and former slaves.

And this is how the film may score in its portrayal of government.  Lincoln, of course, is highly lauded, whether he deserved that or not.  But Stevens reluctant acceptance of the "need" to renounce his principles is so very sad.  Steven Spielberg may have meant to show compromise in a positive light, but Jones succeeds in portraying it as a damned shame.

In order to succeed in politics, abandoning some, if not all, of one's principles, is necessary.  You can't go into Congress or the White House or even the Supreme Court without compromising your own values, or at least you can't succeed there.  You have to shake hands and smile at people who treat your values like crap.  You have to pretend to care about things you don't care about, and to not care about things you do care about.  You have to promise everything to get elected, and spend your tenure trying to figure out how to tell your constituents you will break all those promises, and still win re-election.

Another reason for throwing it all out the window.

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