Lincoln— the film


I’m not sure why we didn’t watch it when it was new, but hubby and I were perusing a list of the best films available for streaming on Netflix, and we chose to view Steven Spielberg’s ode to the controversial president. Gosh, there’s been so much written about this man. Historians can easily demonstrate how controversial and even unpopular Abraham Lincoln was during his lifetime, but since then his stature has ridden the waves of popularity, sometimes to heroic heights and then again to be mostly forgotten.

I’ve read some of the books and articles on Lincoln, but there’s many, many more that I haven’t. Still, the film version has much to offer viewers, regardless of their prior knowledge of the civil war era leader. For the two hours plus of runtime, the film focuses on the struggle to pass the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the one which prohibits slavery, except as punishment for criminal behavior. Daniel Day-Lewis does a remarkable job of portraying the title character. Sally Field is also very good as the mercurial Mary Lincoln, and the supporting cast is peppered with famous and talented actors. When we paused the streaming version for a pantry raid, hubby and I commented that it was as if the script had been tailored to showcase some aging but remarkable players, including Tommy Lee Jones and David Spader.

Mostly, this is a really good film, but the beginning, although dramatically effective, leads a well-read viewer to question its authenticity. The soldiers who quote from Lincoln’s now famous address at Gettysburg seem so sincere, but it is quite unlikely that war weary soldiers would know by memory that speech, as it was not considered to be much good when it was delivered. History has given those words their significance.

Although I don’t remember the source of the recommendation to watch this film, I, too, endorse it. While the outcomes are not really suspenseful, the film holds the viewer’s interest. No biopic is entirely historically accurate, of course, but the spirit of truth is certainly present. Watch (or re-watch) and enjoy!

War Horse— review and commentary

War Horse imageMy sister offered me tickets to a play a while back, War Horse. Since I didn’t get a chance to make the show, I decided to put the film version in my queue at Netflix. Okay, historical films are not my usual genre, but this is one heck of an impressive story. The main character is indeed a horse, a half thoroughbred named Joey, born somewhere in the UK. The story begins with his birth and follows him through his adventures, from being sold at auction to a poor drunkard who couldn’t afford him, to his training by that man’s son, young Albert, to his forced sale to an army officer, who is about to embark on a journey to Europe at the beginning of World War I. Although the horse is the primary focus, the audience learns that Albert joins the army in hopes of finding Joey, and the action switches back and forth a few times, as the characters come closer together during the fighting in France. This war is depicted in detail at times, yet there is an almost surreal look to the filmography. If a war can be pretty, there are times when this one is. But, there are times when it is heart wrenchingly terrible, too. From a strictly historical viewpoint, I had no idea the role that horses played in WWI, and that millions of them not only fought, but died in service.

Joey’s fate is the suspense in this film, for most everyone knows who won that conflict. The script is excellent, the actors are really good, as is the direction, but perhaps the most striking thing in this wonderful film is the performance of the horse(s) that portray Joey. There are times that he seems supremely intelligent, and getting a horse to “perform” as an actor is quite an accomplishment.

War Horse, a Steven Spielberg film, is available on DVD. It is worth an evening of your time, especially if you are a history buff.

How Hollywood Could Solve America’s Financial Crisis

The topic of America’s fiscal future as a topic is a departure for me, for sure, but this post is writing related. The power of Hollywood, especially series television, but also film, is the most important factor in American culture. No kidding! Generations of moms name their babies after popular characters, for instance.

In American television and film, doctors invariably are able to work miracles. Patients die and are brought back with CPR, and so everyone these days is urged to take CPR training. No one on television has broken ribs from the procedure, which is common in real life, and almost everyone coughs a couple of times and is good as new by the next commercial break. But, in real life, most such heroic efforts are in vain. Hollywood thrives on heros and heroism, so extreme measures are rewarded.

However, in real life (and death) most folks who are at death’s door are going to go through it. One out of one persons on this planet will die. Most doctors, who do know the truth, will not take cancer treatments for late-stage disease. They don’t, because they have seen “good” deaths and “bad” ones, and they want to avoid the latter. But family members, brainwashed by the success rate of heroic doctors on the screen, often insist on the latest treatments for family members, even when the pathetic success rate is clearly stated. These acts of love, which often cause patients to be miserable because of side effects of chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery, cost millions of dollars. Few lives are saved, and if they are lengthened, it might be for months, at best. The most expensive years of life, for many Americans, are the last two.

My husband is a cancer survivor. His illness was treatable; that is, his doctor stated that with treatment, he had an 85-90% chance of living out his normal life. Thus, the treatments, which were grueling, were appropriate. I am not speaking of that scenario. Plenty of people are cured or helped by treatments, but side effects and outcomes need to be discussed frankly.

But, because Hollywood’s fictional doctors can cure even the most hopeless of patients, many Americans have totally unrealistic expectations. And, since our doctors, the real ones, are paid for performing services, the money flows from insurance companies, especially the ones funded by the U.S. Treasury, into their accounts. Doctors are trained to preserve life, and are paid for procedures, so they have incentives to continue aggressive treatments, and well-meaning family members can add more incentives. No one wants to say, “It is time to let go.”

Please, script writers and producers, lets have a new wave of handsome, dignified actors “go gently into that goodnight.” This dose of realism would greatly help families avert feelings of guilt for not doing enough for their loved ones, and it would also save patients from the miserable deaths associated with vigorous treatments. A serendipitous side effect of the Hollywood treatment would be a vast reduction in medicare and medicaid bills for those who are going to die, and die soon, anyway.

Be courageous, Hollywood, and write about death and dying in a manner that is more realistic and, ultimately, more kind.