Theology of Film: Lincoln

I’ll admit it. My interest in our 16th president was pretty ordinary until a few years ago when I stumbled upon a book by Seth Grahame-Smith called “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”. It was a blended book using primarily facts of Abraham Lincoln’s life and adding in a vampire storyline. It became one of my favorite novels of all time. It was so well written that I found myself googling a lot of what I read to find out if it were true or not.

Since then, I’ve helped my 11 year old son research Lincoln for a school project and he’s fallen in love with the Emancipator as well. When I first saw the trailer for the new Lincoln movie I was really excited – even if it skipped over his vampire hunting past. Clearly, it didn’t have the guts to deal with the real Lincoln. I forgave the movie though because of the names attached to it. Steven Spielberg. Daniel Day-Lewis. Sally Fields. Tommy Lee Jones. 

It might fly under the box office radar (it finished third in its opening weekend with about $20 million in sales. Twilight finished first with over $140 million. May God have mercy on us all…) but it certainly won’t fly under the award season radar. Day-Lewis is perhaps the greatest actor of a generation and gives a performance that is as inspiring as the man he portrayed. Fields brought a life to Mary Todd that gives Mrs. Lincoln some positive PR for a change.

My wife and I and a friend of ours went to see the movie over the weekend. I was blown away by it. But something from the theological end got my attention in the movie. Storytelling.

President Lincoln loved telling stories. It was how he often resolved disputes or made a point. In fact, he told so many stories that it even drove someone crazy. But everyone else waited on his every word. They leaned in to hear the stories. They were captured by the narrative.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Jesus loved telling stories as well. They communicate a message in a better way than a list or a rational argument would. The people could remember the stories. It impressed me to see the way people listened to Lincoln’s stories. It made me think and wonder if that was how people listened to Jesus. I found myself on the edge of my seat listening to an actor share a story about people I was not familiar with yet I couldn’t turn off my attention.

God is the great Storyteller, and being made in his image we tell stories as well and love to hear them. Perhaps one of Lincoln’s greatest characteristics was that he told stories, just like the one who formed him.

This movie should be must see viewing for any student, history fan, or communicator.

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