Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What an Incredible Experience

Lincoln (5 !s are not enough. This movie stands alone.)
(Tomatometer: 91%)

How can I put the experience of this movie into words? There are few that can do it justice. Steven Spielberg and crew have produced one of the masterpieces of American cinema. Let's take it from the top:

  • Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. Lewis is probably one of the greatest, if not THE greatest actor in movies today. He hasn't lost an ounce of his powerful screen presence in the 24 years(!) since My Left Foot. He channels Lincoln and no one will ever look to Raymond Massey's portrayal as definitive anymore.
  • Tommy Lee Jones is abolitionist congressman Thaddeus Stevens (PA). Jones never fails to engage as he grabs the screen and won't let go, even in a supporting role and wearing a God-awful ugly wig.

  • Sally Field brings new life and insight to Mary Todd Lincoln. She has always received bad press and bad history. Mental illness and deep depression are her anchor weights. But they also hold down a remarkable woman in her own right.

  • David Strathairn, versatile actor that he is, becomes Secretary of State William Seward, famous otherwise for Alaska. A fine political operative, he is led by Lincoln to do the impossible.

  • The three arm-twisters uh, lobbyists, strike just the right comic relief. (Obviously John Goodman wouldn't have fit into this movie!)

  • Steven Spielberg is still at the top of his game. Perhaps only Schindler's List can stand above Lincoln. In all these years he manages to find the heart and soul of the important story and let us experience it.

  • Tony Kushner has certainly continued to hone his art. From Angels in America to Lincoln he is amazing.

The use of light and shadow is spectacular and almost miraculous. The ambiance of the movie grabs and carries you into the story. Storyteller Abraham Lincoln has his story told in great fashion.

I cried five times during the movie, starting in the very second scene as soldiers recite the Gettysburg Address to Lincoln. I cried at the passage of the 13th Amendment and at Lincoln's words in his second inaugural address. Why did I cry?

First and foremost this is the story of my country. This is the story of what finally made us THE United States of America, a single country, not a collection of states. I am at heart a crazy patriotic, American romantic.(The Battle Hymn of the Republic still brings tears!) I continue to believe strongly in the ideals and hopes this nation represents. Without the 13th Amendment banning slavery we would not be even as far as we are today.

Which is the other reason I found myself crying. This is nearly 150 years ago now. Yet the ideals for which Lincoln worked so hard, the prejudices and hatreds are often just barely under the surface today. Sure, sometimes they are hidden and draped in words that sound sane and patriotic. But they are neither! Racism, the continuing legacy of a nation built on slavery of one group because they are different, is real. It has infused our nation. It is still a poison in our system.

Sure, it is better today. Some even believe that racism has disappeared. Don't be so sure. Evil has a way of winning souls to its side through cunning and double-talk. I am a white, Euro-American. I grew up in a middle-American mostly white, European ethnic community in the 50s and 60s. Civil rights was THE #1 issue in my youth. (The close second was war.) Perhaps I am still too ready to see racism under every tree and around every corner. I hope so.

But this movie has reminded me of what I see going on today. It has shown the power of politics to distort and manipulate. In the midst of that Lincoln himself had to do his own manipulation. He knew, HE KNEW, that passing the 13th Amendment held the key to our national future. Sadly he didn't live to make his dream a reality.

But in this magnificent portrayal, Spielberg, Day-Lewis, Jones, Field, et. al. have reminded us of the great calling that
all men are created equal!

And not just men.

(Argo, Flight, and Lincoln down. Life of Pi is next.

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