Abraham Lincoln enters the vastly dark room, save for the bright moon rays shining through the window. On the floor, Tad is sleeping next to his drawings of a battlefield and his toy soldiers. Lincoln sweeps the soldiers off the drawing, lies down next to him and motions him to get on a piggy back ride in order to be carried to bed. Tad obliges, stating, “I want to see Willie.” Lincoln wistfully replies, “You can’t, son. Willie’s gone. It’s been three years now” and carries him to the bedroom. Tad’s pain is palpable, and Lincoln’s nostalgia and poignant response to his son’s innocent request render us, the audience, a part of the intimate and moving scene and immediately thrusts us into the storyline. We sense Lincoln’s pain, Tad’s innocence, and we are left wondering not only what is ahead for these two, but where Tad’s mother fits into this situation and why she isn’t the one tucking her son into bed. Through the rest of the movie, we realize Mary Todd Lincoln’s emotional withdrawal from her marriage and from her younger son, Tad, and her battle with depression since her son, Willie’s, sudden death. Indeed, Sally Field’s portrayal of Lincoln’s wife is authentic, powerful and extraordinarily believable. She allows us an unprecedented peer into her ailing marriage, her wavering support for her husband’s radical push for the Thirteenth Amendment, her mental illness, her strength and intelligence, her assertiveness and her internal struggles juxtaposed with the pressures of being married to the most powerful man in America at the time. Mary views her husband’s passion and stubbornness when it comes to abolishing slavery and enfranchising the “Negroes” as folly and useless. She goes so far as to attempt to persuade him to give up what is in her view a pointless crusade. “No one’s loved as much as you by the people. Don’t waste that power on an amendment that’s sure of defeat”, she implores. Lincoln, of course, persists in his resolve and will not be dissuaded from following what he believes to be the moral and just amendment to enact.
So stalwart is Lincoln’s determination that he will stop at nothing, including strong-arm tactics, bribery and threats, to obtain the necessary votes for the passage of the amendment. Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Lincoln is brilliant method acting at its finest. The actor has very obviously researched our sixteenth president in depth and has managed to capture every facet of his personality and physical traits, including his vocal pitch, his mannerisms, his distinctive walk, his sense of humor and his overall grandeur and stateliness. Lincoln boldly goes where “no man has gone before”, relentlessly pursuing liberty and justice for all, especially for those of color. His marriage suffers at some point because of this, and his relationship with his oldest son, Robbie, is strained due to the duo’s diverging views on Robbie’s future. Yet, despite all these weighty matters that Abe is dealing with, he somehow finds the time for pause and humor. In the midst of an attack on the Union, he tells the story of Ethan Allen, an American Revolution hero who went to Britain and the British, still upset about losing the war, decided to poke fun at Americans by posting a large picture of George Washington just above the privy. Ethan Allen used the privy a few times, but said nothing. Finally, a Brit couldn’t stand the suspense any longer and asked Allen about his reaction to said picture. Allen, without missing a beat, simply replied by stating, “there is nothing to make an Englishman shit faster than the sight of General George Washington.” This brilliant story telling ability is one of the cornerstone traits Lincoln is known for, and the actor’s comedic timing on this story is impeccable. Daniel Day Lewis truly shines in this stellar Oscar-worthy performance. The picture is also unique, historically authentic, suspenseful (regardless of the fact that we all know how it ends) and truly worth viewing. It receives my highest recommendations.
PS: If you’re into award shows, be sure to watch the Oscars this Sunday, February 24th at 7pm EST on ABC. Lincoln has secured 12 Oscar nominations, including best picture. 🙂
*Images Credit : http://oscar.go.com/nominees/best-picture/lincoln