Saturday, November 24, 2012

Lincoln the movie

Paul and I saw Lincoln on the day it opened here in Evanston. It was excellent, and Daniel Day-Lewis' performance was on some other plane, really extraordinary, one of those once-in-a-lifetime portrayals that I'll never forget.

I've read a good deal of and about Lincoln during my life, and one of my favorite fantasies is of going back in time to meet him. In most ways, going back to the 1860s would be the worst kind of nightmare because as a woman I'd most likely be ignored, I would be surrounded by people with very different values, and I would never see my loved ones again. But I'd love to meet Lincoln just to satisfy my curiosity about what he was like. I think it was Shelby Foote who said that Lincoln is the American Saint, and I think it's true, and I'm glad to say that some of his foibles are on view in the movie.

Day-Lewis seems to inhabit Lincoln's body, to convey with convincing truth Lincoln's body language and physical presence. I read in TIME that Day-Lewis attempted to duplicate Lincoln's unusual walk (he placed his whole foot on the ground rather than beginning with his heel), and that's noticeable. In one scene that seems to be my most vivid memory from the film, he's standing in front of a window with one hand crossed behind his back holding onto his other elbow. Something in that stance seems absolutely right and also manages to convey a kind of vulnerability that is so appealing and, I suspect, also dead right. That vulnerability means to me that if I were to go back in time and meet Lincoln I'd most likely start weeping the moment I saw him. And he'd make a joke about his ugliness having that kind of effect on me.

Two other moments: one in which Lincoln is talking with someone, and his irritation at what they're saying builds to the point where he winces and his cheek muscles flex; and another in which Lincoln has awakened his secretary, John Hay, and gives Hay's knee a hard shake to emphasize a point.

Of the movies I've seen that were directed by Steven Spielberg, I think I've disliked more than I've liked. Loved Raiders of the Lost Ark years ago. Didn't enjoy Jaws or Jurassic Park because I don't enjoy being scared or upset but consider them well made. Was mesmerized and haunted by Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. Liked E.T. okay, liked Minority Report a lot, hated Close Encounters when it came out but have since come to appreciate it. Don't remember 1941 or The Blues Brothers well enough to say what I thought of them but haven't seen them since, which says something. Hated the sequels to Raiders, hated Hook with a passion, disliked Empire of the Sun, and most recently considered the hours watching War Horse and The Adventures of TinTin a waste of time.

So I was skeptical in the extreme that I'd like a film Spielberg made about Lincoln and am happy to be proved wrong and relieved that a take on Lincoln with so much money behind it is a pretty good look at the man.

At times the Lincoln's dialogue is hard to follow but for the best of reasons, that it appears to have been plucked from the time. Spielberg captured several iconic moments familiar to anyone who has studied Lincoln: seated in a chair with his son on his lap and orating for his second inaugural. I thought ending the movie with a recap of the second inaugural address was an odd choice, as John Wilkes Booth was standing just a short distance away, but I can understand why he'd want to end with "with malice toward none, with charity toward all." I'm feeling much more charitable toward Steven Spielberg than I would've imagined.

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