This column urges folks to see the movies "Lincoln" and "Zero Dark Thirty" as a way to fill in the post-NFL Sunday afternoons and as a civic duty.
The Super Bowl is done. What to do with that gaping hole on Sunday afternoon the NFL once occupied? Here’s a suggestion. Go see these two movies: “Lincoln” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”
These are movies for anyone who cares about America, where we’ve been, where we’re going and maybe why we’re headed there.
Not because they are perfect recreations of history -- recent history in “Zero Dark’s” case -- but because they address our own mythology.
Both movies are brutal, “Zero Dark” more so than “Lincoln.” But that’s only because “Lincoln” has, well, Lincoln’s great genius, human spirit and humor to soften the blow of realizing what a tough sell it was to ban one human being buying, selling and owning another human being in the United States. Even with the Civil War nearly won.
Lincoln’s faith in the great democratic experiment that was and is this country gives us hope that our history is a trajectory of increasing human rights and expanding human dignity, our great gift to the world.
“Zero Dark” has no such saving grace and doesn’t even seem to want it. The movie is shot starkly, often in harsh brightness and deep darkness. The torture scenes are brutal. The opening scene of the 9/11 attacks, crushing. The movie reminds us why we’re fighting the war on terror. Its torture scenes remind us of the steep price we’re paying and risk we’re running to our national morality by fighting it.
The scenes of water boarding and beatings were among the most disturbing I have ever seen on the screen. Not because they are gratuitously gory. They aren’t. But because they undercut the very definition of what it means to be an American.
When I was growing up, Americans didn’t do things like this in movies. We handed out chocolate bars to hungry kids on our way to victory. Some of us died on the way. Heroically. Quietly. Falling on a grenade to save the rest of the platoon. The people who did things like this wore black uniforms, black leather trench coats and wore a red band with squiggly, interlocking lines in a white circle on their arms.
Similarly, “Lincoln” explodes historic myths, albeit political maneuvering and backstabbing is far less graphic. Those who haven’t read “Team of Rivals” might be shocked to realize the 13th Amendment banning slavery barely passed in the House of Representatives. This at time when the North was poised to win the Civil War and when the vast majority of slaveholding states didn’t even have a vote. That prejudice ran so deep in the grain of a nation “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” is no less shocking than water boarding.
Page 2 of 2 - History has proven who was right on most of the issues ‘Lincoln” raises, although we still debate the powers of the presidency and Lincoln’s stretching of them. We haven’t had time to digest the issues “Zero Dark” raises. But both movies make us think about and debate what it means, deep in our souls, to be an American.
And that’s a good thing.
Dan Mac Alpine lives in Ipswich and is senior editor of the Ipswich Chronicle.