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Political Emotions: Civil Religion and Melodrama in Spielberg's Lincoln
Title of the book
Emotion, Affect and Sentiment: The Language and Aesthetics of Feeling
Address of publication
Langlotz A., Soltysik Monnet A.
Spell. Swiss Papers in English Language and Literature
This essay focuses on how Spielberg's film engages with and contributes to the myth of Lincoln as a super-natural figure, a saint more than a hero or great statesman, while anchoring his moral authority in the sentimental rhetoric of the domestic sphere. It is this use of the melodramatic mode, linking the familial space with the national through the trope of the victim-hero, which is the essay's main concern. With Tony Kushner, author of Angels in America, as scriptwriter, it is perhaps not surprising that melodrama is the operative mode in the film. One of the issues that emerge from this analysis is how the film updates melodrama for a contemporary audience in order to minimize what could be perceived as manipulative sentimental devices, observing for most of the film an aesthetic of relative sobriety and realism. In the last hour, and especially the final minutes of the film, melodramatic conventions are deployed in full force and infused with hagiographic iconography to produce a series of emotionally charged moments that create a perfect union of American Civil Religion and classical melodrama. The cornerstone of both cultural paradigms, as deployed in this film, is death: Lincoln's at the hands of an assassin, and the Civil War soldiers', poignantly depicted at key moments of the film. Finally, the essay shows how film melodrama as a genre weaves together the private and the public, the domestic with the national, the familial with the military, and links pathos to politics in a carefully choreographed narrative of sentimentalized mythopoesis.
Lincoln, Civil Religion, melodrama, nationalism, emotion
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