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“LINCOLN,” A Golden Era Masterpiece in the 21st Century

THE WORDS that make up the script that tell the story of the 16th president’s efforts to get the 13th Amendment through the House evolve into a densely rich historical drama. The process at the heart of how history happened and the path provided to make it possible are subsequently spun into a riveting story brimming with pain and humor. Through the congressional process and the people tapped to mark the seminal moment in our American history, Stephen Spielberg and Tony Kushner have delivered our era’s “Gone with the Wind,” made possible through the fearless portrayal of the man at its heart.

Daniel Day Lewis is LINCOLN, all caps required. Haunted, vulnerable, determination of molten steel to be the foundation of something all involved know will be great, Abraham lives on screen with humor, agony and humanity as a leader that eventually molds men’s obstinance to his will and purpose for the betterment of a country that cannot be all it’s intended without completion of the task at hand. Not even Civil War peace matters more. A performance that has come to be expected of Lewis, which goes beyond all methods and madness that make an artist grab from within to go where his courage leads, ignoring the fence of myth that dares him to try.

The film is based in part on the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which provides the map.

The details have already been written and is useful for those who haven’t read the book or know the plot and characters.

There is Secretary of State William Seward played by David Strathairn, Pennsylvania Rep. Thaddeus Stevens by Tommy Lee Jones, party founder Preston Blair by Hal Holbrook, a tormented to the bone Mary Todd Lincoln by Sally Field, with Republican dealmakers led by James Spader.

There is Lincoln asking two young men if they think we choose to be born.

At one point, the eldest son Robert, portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, explodes at his father, telling Lincoln “I may not be my father, but I won’t be nothing,” laying down the gauntlet on his decision to defy his parents and join the fight. The news brings on another fit of emotion by Field when she learns of it, telling her husband to make good on his prior threats to commit her, and threatening of what’s to come if Robert dies and her pain in losing another son cannot be held in check. Lincoln responds in an emotional venting that confronts his wife that she can choose to react as she must, but not to think his grief is less because he expresses it as he will, leaving his wife to stew in the drama from which she cannot extricate herself, but which he won’t join, as he leaves the room and in it her alone. It’s a thunderclap moment between husband and wife, where Spielberg and Kushner have Lincoln leaving Mary sitting on the floor writhing in pain, a catharsis of epic drama in which Lincoln refuses to indulge. The grief for him is too much to unleash, but which for his wife it seems all she has left in life.

Then there’s that one instant in the film when Lincoln talks about equality, where Daniel Day Lewis’s performance reached into my heart and history became now, the intimacy unnerving at how it shook me.

Then there are those moments Lincoln makes you laugh out loud.

Lincoln’s death that isn’t seen, because the moment can’t be captured beyond cliché.

But it always comes back to the words, the unfolding, returning back to them, with the experience of feeling it making it manifest.

Seeing Lincoln come alive on screen before you is a gift. That it transports you to a point in U.S. history and makes it breathe is an event.

All of it lent to the moment, lifted from parts of history’s archives.




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18 Responses to “LINCOLN,” A Golden Era Masterpiece in the 21st Century

  1. Art Pronin November 17, 2012 at 3:40 am #

    Im dying to see this! Ive been waiting 10 yrs for it. The nation needs this film I think. People need to see a great leader come alive.

    • Taylor Marsh November 17, 2012 at 11:18 pm #

      You will love it, Art.

  2. TPAZ November 17, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    and what’s Obama, chopped liver???

    • Taylor Marsh November 18, 2012 at 9:50 am #

      It’s really very unfortunate, not to mention small of you, TPAZ, that you chose a column on this monumental film to hijack the conversation in order to get in a cheap shot on President Obama.

      • TPAZ November 18, 2012 at 10:43 am #

        ” The nation needs this film I think. People need to see a great leader come alive.”

        I will try to behave more like Art in the future.

        • Taylor Marsh November 18, 2012 at 11:01 am #

          heheh… too much. ;-)

  3. kris November 17, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    TPAZ – You’re kidding right? Does everything have to have politics drug into it? Isn’t it possible to just enjoy a movie anymore? Good grief.

    • TPAZ November 17, 2012 at 12:48 pm #


    • Solo November 17, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

      We could be sitting here talking about the finer points of mixing cement and TPAZ would find some way of dragging the President into the conversation. TPAZ has this sick bigoted obsession with the President that rivals Donald Trump’s! Dying to see Lincoln it has masterpiece written all over it!

      • TPAZ November 18, 2012 at 10:37 am #

        Oh dear.

  4. PeggySue November 17, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    My husband and I saw the film yesterday. It’s nothing short of amazing, particularly the performances [all of them] but especially the understated but powerful portrayal that Lewis brings to the screen.

    Then there are the small, beautifully rendered moments that really set the film apart from all the junk out there. One of those moments that really got to me was Lincoln preparing to give a telegraph order. It’s late at night, he’s been roaming the WH trying to get his head around what to do and then in the process of sending this message out, one of the two young men in the empty war room informs him that he’s been trained as an engineer. Lincoln then lapses into a one-sided dialogue on Euclid’s theorem of equality. He ultimately revises the message he was going to send, wearily rises from his seat and leaves the room. But before he completely exits, one of the young men stands with a look of perplexed wonder as if to say: I can scarcely believe it but here is a great man, a truly great man passing.

    It was one cinematic gift after another. I love the movies but so often I’m disappointed. That was not the case here. The film does have a political edge because it reminds us of what leadership looks and sounds like, how moving forward has always been a bare-knuckle struggle.

    It’s a great film and very timely!

    • Taylor Marsh November 17, 2012 at 11:18 pm #

      It’s a gorgeous film, PeggySue, absolutely.

    • secularhumanizinevoluter November 18, 2012 at 8:38 am #

      PeggySue, great review…and I LOVE your avatar!!!!!

      • PeggySue November 18, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

        Thanks, secular. I was thrilled when I saw TM’s review here because I was so impressed with the film, nearly brought to tears at several moments.

        It was one of those films that at the conclusion, very few jumped from their seats. People sat there, watching the credits roll. It’s that kind of movie and without saying or hitting viewers over the head is very relevant to our own times. Daniel Day Lewis is absolutely stunning, almost frightening in the film. He didn’t ‘play Lincoln. Taylor is right: he ‘is’ Lincoln. It’s an amazing performance, enough to give you chills, enough tear your heart wide open.

        Love when that happens!

  5. T-Steel November 17, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    Can’t lie Taylor. When I first saw your title “Lincoln” I thought about “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer”. I’m such a BIG fan of vampires, werewolves, and monsters in general that my brain just… well… Goes vampire. :)

    Anyways, my wife and I also saw “Lincoln” and I agree. A damn fine movie. Daniel Day Lewis is straight up Oscar material for this role. A great flick end-to-end.

    • Taylor Marsh November 17, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

      That’s too funny, T-Steel.

      I’m a big fan of “True Blood,” but also have enjoyed the “Twilight” films, though they’re not close to the HBO series.

  6. Jane Austen November 17, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    OMG – go see the movie. My husband and I did. I love all things Lincoln and this movie did not disappoint. It was absolutely fab. I waited for it and plan to see it again and again. I read Doris Goodwin Kearns’ book which was a darn good read but seeing Lincoln on the screen. OMG – full of emotion and absolutely breathtaking. You have hit the nail on the head, Taylor.

    • Taylor Marsh November 17, 2012 at 11:17 pm #

      It is equal in breadth, if not length, to “Gone with the Wind,” and an important film.

.... a writer is someone who takes the universal whore of language
and turns her into a virgin again.  ~ erica jong