Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Lincoln": Mostly introspective drama about equality, human rights

Although the period-piece drama “Lincoln” is mostly backroom morality play, there are some horrific images from the War Between the States toward the end, as Steven Spielberg reaches back for the sort of narration he produced in “Schindler’s List”.  There’s dump for severed male limbs that is particularly upsetting.  Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) has to deal with his distant wife’s Mary Todd (Sally Field) objection to their son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) going to war himself, even as an officer.  I recalled the long soliloquies in the 1995 Ted Turner marathon, “Gettysburg”, about fighting, dying, or worse getting maimed (and still getting someone to love you) for a purpose or cause greater than the self.

In the Civil War, you could certainly fight on the wrong side.  That is, if you were from the South.  The film focuses on the story of President Lincoln’s pressing for passage of the 13th Amendment, ending slavery. The problem, as he saw it, was that his Emancipation Proclamation from 1863 had limited legal force (based on war powers), and that he needed to get and win the House vote (on Tuesday, January 31, 1865) before southern states were back in the Union.  In any formulation, southerners faced expropriation of property that they had thought was rightfully theirs by self-evident natural truths.  That all comes to a philosophical head in a scene where Lincoln, with two young officers, talks about Euclid’s axioms, that two things equal to something have to be equal to each other.

Daniel Day-Lewis looks tall and haggard, as is appropriate (Lincoln is said to have had Marfan’s Syndrome).  That’s a far cry from how he was cast in the 1990s in “The Last of the Mohicans”.  He seems self-righteous.  That seems to have driven away his wife.  There is one scene where Lincoln bunks with young men.  It’s not clear if that means anything more than the lack of privacy common in the 19th Century.  Wikipedia weights in on the subject here

The level of technology in the 1860s is shown in detail. Already, the telegraph was a predecessor of today's email -- and the telegraph system had just survived the Carrington solar storm of 1859. 
The film required most of Hollywood’s resources to produce (although largely in Virginia).  Touchstone-Disney is the official US distributor.  Production companies owning the copyrights include Dreamworks and 20th Century Fox, as well as Participant Media , Reliance, The Kennedy-Marshall Company, and Spielberg’s own Amblin Entertainment.  Post-production, a lot of Warner Brothers facilities were used.  I guess any piracy will result in a lot of plaintiffs!   The film was shot largely around Petersburg and Richmond VA (it’s of interest to me, at least, that there is a major production (New Millennium) studio in Petersburg VA., 50 miles from Colonial Williamsburg).

The official site is here.

A note about the presentation:

The film is widely shown in most multiplexes (starting Nov. 16), but at first it was marketed as an “independent art” movie, despite its huge budget and multiple major studios involved in production and distribution.  It’s getting to be necessary to be big now to even be in the festival and art movie market. 
I saw it at the Regal Potomac Yards in Alexandria VA (to try a different place), on a large screen in a large stadium with an almost sold-out Saturday afternoon crowd. The projection did not seem to be digital.  I do recommend trying to see it in a theater converted to extended digital projection (most large AMC properties have it). The audience liked the movie; it did not "hold applause".   

This will be nominated for Best Picture, no doubt. 

(Images are my own.) 

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