THIS DUST WAS ONCE THE MAN,
Gentle, plain, just, and resolute, under whose cautious hand,
Against the foulest crime in history known in any land or age,
Was saved the Union of these States.
It is the dream of all men to be outlived by their vision, their voice and calling. To not live, as Thoreau defined it, is the greatest fear realized by so many today, who chose to embrace safety and never truly live.
While it isn’t needed to watch this movie in theaters, it is a must see, and I recommend you buy this movie, as I’ll be seeing it again and again. Here’s why:
- Terrific dialogue; engaging, eloquent, revealing and profound
- The characters are richer, collectively and individually, than I’ve ever seen on film.
- It’s a great picture of integrity, both of a nation and of an individual
Lincoln was more theater than movie; the dialogue swept the film from start to finish, and the only action was in the first moments. In other words, it is exactly what it advertises.
The story weaves Lincoln’s persona through the historic inner-workings of congress’s lame-duck politicians, who prolonged the country’s division. Watching as through a porthole, the audience might be lost in the language, and not only for its legal jargon. People simply do not talk this way anymore, and we’re the worse for it. It is a bit hard to follow, but well worth it.
Daniel Day-Lewis’s Lincoln is something to behold. It’s captivating, and he’s complimented by an excellent cast. Finally, James Spader has found a role that suits him, and suits him well. Tommy Lee Jones‘s character is just as fascinating as Lincoln’s, and we see him at his best in this movie. It’s fun watching Jackie Earle Haley in a different role. Sally Field does well playing a very delicate but also formidable Mrs. Lincoln; watching her with Day-Lewis stole me away.
This movie plants you right in the shoes of the man. His dry humor and deliberate manor seem carved out of wood, owning to the hard living in his times, but his warmth and humility do more than temper his assertive nature; they win the respect of a divided nation.
Lincoln’s great heart and philosophical mind are his most enviable qualities, outmatching even his eloquence.
There’s something subtle about him too, something that most characters attached to Lincoln for reasons political or otherwise find enchanting, perhaps even misplaced: his joy.
Shouldering his terrible burden as president during our Civil War is overwhelming, to say the least, likewise his personal loss. Add to this the heart he had for uniting his country, ravaged by years of brother waring against brother. Men had been trampled, drowned, torn apart under Lincoln’s administration.
There are fleeting moments, as must have been in his life, of joy. Here and there, throughout the late nights, often misplaced and unanticipated, joy was always met by a heart-broken and rapidly-aging Lincoln, who knew it was too precious a friend to be forgotten. It even aggravates some, the extent to which he endures hardship with such poise, spinning yarns and sharing ridiculous jokes in the face of monumental pressure. If not for his poise Lincoln’s joy may have been mistaken for madness.
Likewise, the movie would be undone if not for the remarkable dialogue. As mentioned, it is the characters that make this movie. It’s probably not coincidence it comes on the heels of our most recent presidential election. I’m sure there are plenty of commentaries to be Googled with theories and comparisons. But I won’t bother with the politics. I think the central part of the movie is simply conveyed, and as often as Lincoln’s joy seems misplaced, it too is misunderstood.
Lincoln: “Can we choose to be born? Are we suited for the times?”
The fear of death is only defied by the choice to live with purpose, which is the reason I’ve quoted Whitman. We’ll all be food for worms. All the more reason to consider carefully where to place our faith. From what do you draw upon for your strength? Or, better still, from whom?