Saturday, December 15, 2012

Lincoln (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


"Lincoln"  the film has now arrived in a blaze of cannon fire and Lincoln, the rational and very human being, breathes life in Spielberg's new epic. Here we have speaking before us and actually smiling, the ultra-iconic Abraham Lincoln (both the president and the man) and he is quite sensitive with an novel sense of humor portrayed by the chameleon Daniel Day-Lewis.

This is no surface performance but a near tour de force. We really see Lincoln walk ( he has a nonchalant, drifting gait) stammer and smile in a very real and quite human way. Although Lincoln is often taciturn and melancholic,he is no Gloomy Gus. He has a dry sense of fun and is fond of telling long stories full of pauses to the chagrin of others. As gentle and reserved as he is, Lincoln is never a passive penny. He booms with resolve and gets what he wants.

When the camera opens we see The  Union and The Confederacy deep in the mud, white soldiers against black soldiers, punching, clawing and impaling with grunting awe in hyper-drive  reminiscent of "Saving Private Ryan". The blue and gray are so immersed that they are Greek wrestlers in Bas-relief.

Then we see Lincoln who is relating a rather scary dream to his confidante and wife Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field). Mary tries to put her brooding husband at ease, saying that his fear is obviously his apprehension in trying to end slavery, known as The 13th Amendment. Mary's advice: there is a extremely bloody war. The amendment can and should wait till after the bloodshed  has ceased.

After all, Mary is clairvoyant.

Lincoln is pitted in the lion's den of his cabinet, although the film mostly focuses on Lincoln's relationship with the irascible but passionate Abolitionist, Thaddeus Stevens, played with spirit and verve by Tommy Lee Jones. Stevens fears that Lincoln will go diplomatic and soft. His message: the democrats will cave. Push the amendment through.

The first half of the film has our 16th President of The United States, going from place to place trying to reason with his cabinet and hesitant democrats who would rather end a war than terminate slavery. Violence, abuse and the nation-wide debasement of an entire race, albeit wrong, is the way things are in 1860 and no one likes change, especially in the midst of loss.

Lincoln is caught in an existential bind. The more he tries to placate, the more democrats rise against him. To prove his point, Lincoln quotes Euclid, who was the emperor of equality, so to speak. As it is in nature, he suggests, so it is with men: all sides are equal. Lincoln begins to win both ally and adversary to his cause, due in no small part to some one of a kind bullying by Thaddeus Stevens. Lincoln employs guile and good nature to illustrate his cause, but once he is rebuffed, he is a dynamo of coal and brimstone. The table shakes under his slap. And it is then we see an echo of Daniel Day-Lewis' monstrous bloodletters, consumed by ambition. A duality of nature, both fire and kind function existed in this man.

The most interesting aspects of the film is Lincoln's nonchalant humor  and Mary Todd Lincoln's fearful dominance, despite her small stature. Cloaked under her huge billowing skirt, she trembles over her husband as a wild mushroom, saturated with toxicity and invective.

As Mary says at one outing in paraphrase: Do as I say. Mary is the one person that Lincoln is afraid of.

The pacing is brisk throughout, making this film a solid and active history. Thaddeus Stevens' rolling volcanic outbursts offer a light irreverence to Lincoln's saturnine smiles, who is not beyond poking at himself.
"You know Mary, we should be happier. We're miserable." He admits with a sad smirk.

"Lincoln" finally showcases the man, the icon-as- president and the actor Daniel Day-Lewis as a Humanist instrument. As he explosively fires at his wife and then his cabinet, he shuffles off in an odd hopping tread: a man in an ordinary black blanket, a pilgrim and a president, who has extinguished himself in battle to become part of our collective  transformation.

Write Ian at

No comments: