Happy Birthday to Abe Lincoln (and Charles Darwin)

Abraham-Lincoln-1865-400

“If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how – the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what’s said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.” — Lincoln

One of the reasons the film Lincoln is so personal to me, and one of the reasons you see me writing about it too much on this website, and one of the reasons I have defriended people on Facebook who speak harshly about the movie is my own adoration of the man himself. Was Lincoln perfect? Of course not. He didn’t get to be the most popular president by being a abolitionist or a revolutionary. How he changed, how he evolved as a human being – and how that transformation was snuffed out too soon — matters more to me than smearing his memory, as so many are wont to do.

What I love about the movie Lincoln is that is reveals tiny details about the president. He could bear to discipline his children so they ran wild throughout the White House — but Lincoln was a kind man that way, and was famously kind to animals. He once stopped his schoolmates from putting hot coals on the backs of turtles. When Lincoln was a boy his mother died. He was then briefly raised by his sister and the two of them had to fend for themselves until his father could find a woman, marry her, and bring her back to raise his children. Lincoln’s sister died but his stepmother outlived him. Death chased him at every turn, and that grief is displayed so well by Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance. The film is made by people who valued Abe Lincoln so much that Spielberg wore a suit to the set as a sign of respect.

So yeah, the Oscars, whatever. But this memory, this man, this MOVIE, greater than all of it.

Connecticut’s Constitutional Amendment denied the franchise to African Americans

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18 Comments

  1. Aaron A
    February 12, 2013

    Sasha, your advocacy for this film is wonderful and I encourage you to keep it up. We Lincoln warriors know what the truly best movie of the year is even if the Academy doesn’t.

    This film means so much to me as well, especially growing up in Western Illinois, an area rich in Lincoln history. Between a couple of his famous debates with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln gave a speech, spent the night, and was shaven by a black barber in my small hometown. For the rest of his life, the man who gave him a shave was so proud to say that he shaved the face of the “Great Emancipator”. I grew up revering Lincoln and what he did for our country and admired him even more after reading some biographies on him.

    Like you, I have a great pet peeve when someone said they found Lincoln “boring”. Because apparently changing the course of history forever is not entertaining enough for some people.

    Kushner’s screenplay and Daniel Day Lewis’s performance has reinvigorated my love and passion not only for this man, but for this country. Sure, it may not resonate internationally as it does here, but this film is a great character study that I would think any admirer of film would appreciate.

    I don’t know what to say about this film that hasn’t already been beautifully said by you or Ryan. All I can say is that this film may not win Best Picture, but it will fit nicely with Citizen Kane, Goodfellas, Saving Private Ryan, The Social Network and others as one of the great Best Picture nominees. Maybe that is a list it more deserves to be on.

  2. Derek
    February 12, 2013

    It’s also my girlfriend’s birthday! I look at her and see bits of Lincoln and Darwin’s thinking patterns, sometimes. I can’t wait to sit her down and finally watch it.

  3. Kane
    February 12, 2013

    Sasha, I’m sorry but that’s not Abe Lincoln. He was just accepting a BAFTA so please try to find a picture of the real Abe.

  4. February 12, 2013

    Happy birthday to Jean Renoir, Darren Aronofsky, Costa-Gavras, Franco Zeffirelli, Charles M. Schulz, Sal Mineo, Maud Adams, Christina Ricci, and Josh Brolin. And Judy Blume.

    Exactly 100 years to the day after Lincoln was born, the NAACP was founded.

    Exactly 99 years ago today the first stone in the Lincoln Memorial was put in place. (coincidence!?)

  5. February 12, 2013

    oh, and the Lincoln Blu-ray is up at Amazon for pre-order today. Release date March 26th. The birthday of Tennessee Williams and — fuck — Alan Arkin.

  6. AARK
    February 12, 2013

    [deleted - warned, will be banned if you keep it up.]

  7. Evelyn Garver
    February 12, 2013

    Thanks for all your wonderful words on this film. I believe it is the grief of Lincoln and Mary Todd that is the emotional center of the film. When DDL lies down with Tad and carries him to bed, the film won my heart. I may have run out of words to express my admiration for Day-Lewis. Had he won a dozen Oscars, it would not be enough.

    Today is also the birthday of Charles Darwin and my husband.

  8. February 12, 2013

    Just one little correction – Lincoln actually predeceased his stepmother. Lincoln’s former law partner, Billy Herndon, interviewed her in May/June 1865 for the biography he eventually co-authored. She told Herndon, tearfully, that she knew “Abe” wouldn’t come back from Washington alive; she just felt it. Poor woman. She probably loved him even more than her biological offspring.

    That aside, I applaud your post, Sasha! The Lincoln movie is important in many ways. It’s important because of great direction, writing, acting and cinematography (the socre isn’t too shabby, either), but also because it’s about our greatest American president and one of his greatest, if underappreciated, achievements.

    Tony Kushner did a wondrous job of seamlessly inserting all sorts of fine detail about Lincoln in the screenplay. As we see him working to get the 13th Amendment passed, or otherwise interacting with colleagues and family, we hear about his past, about his thinking process (using that magnificent brain of his). We see how earthy he was and how much he cared about average folk, since he grew up among them. We see him whittling during cabinet meetings and shining his own boots as the butler, William Slade, looks on in exasperation. (Lincoln cared little for ceremony or formalities.) We’re shown his 24/7 style of presidential management. He was, in fact, an around-the-clock president, something we never had before and probably haven’t had since. (In all the time he was president, he never took a vacation!)

    Kushner has been condemned for switching the votes of two Connecticut members of Congress from “yes” on the 13th amendment to “no,” but hardly anyone talks about what he got right in depicting the political realities of Washington DC, and America, in early 1865. He deftly, and often humorously, brought to light the political divisions that continued to manifest themselves in challenging ways during that period.

    Some of the most beautifully filmed scenes I’ve ever watched in a movie are in this film, including the one in which Lincoln discusses Euclid with two stalwarts of the telegraph office. One of the last scenes, in which William Slade watches Lincoln walk down the hall toward a waiting carriage and his assassination, has to be one of the most perfect, and heart-rending, scenes in cinematic history.

    I would like to see the movie, and Spielberg, honored for its extraordinary accomplishments in so many areas, and I also feel that honoring the movie would be a way to honor Abraham Lincoln, the man.

  9. Sasha Stone
    February 12, 2013

    Oh thanks Liz. Not sure why I remembered Lincoln surviving his stepmother….!!

  10. Andres
    February 12, 2013

    I don’t think you talk about this movie too much, I think other bloggers need to talk about it more. I appreciate your support for this film and your respect for this man. Thanks!

  11. tr
    February 12, 2013

    Lincoln is worth admiration, but he’s not the idol that American culture has made him out to be. Suspending habeas corpus, being an out-and-out segregationist racist, imprisoning journalists, etc.

  12. Yvette
    February 12, 2013

    When I was about 17, my cousin brought me back a Lincoln portrait/poster from a trip to DC. I used to wear, back in the 80s, a t-shirt with Lincoln and the US flag on it with the words: ‘When I do good, I feel good/When I do back, I feel bad – that’s my religion.’
    Lincoln has fascinated me from a young age. There was just something about that tall, socially and physically awkward man, and his soulful, solitary eyes.
    I’ve been waiting for this film to come out since it was first announced years ago, with Liam Neeson attached ….and it exceeded all my expectations. My history buff cousin has also been waiting for had her doubts. She has now seen it four times, a first for her. Maybe it’s bigger for us than most people and that’s ok….it just kinda hurts when it gets disrespected. Film critique is one thing, but when people are bored, disdainful and deign some kind of cold-eyed disinterest toward Speilberg’s enormous task and achievment….it’s offensive to me – it just is, as an American. And regardless of what happens on Oscar night, this film is epic in my world.

  13. Yvette
    February 12, 2013

    tr,
    No one has ever said Lincoln was a saint, and the film doesn’t either. He was a man that evolved….
    Those kind a statements from people like you are obnoxious and naive because the tone implies that you somehow know something others don’t. You read one, simplistic and skewed version of Lincoln, the rest of us read all versions of the man – because that’s what human nature is. It’s not all black and white. Get over it.

  14. Marie
    February 12, 2013

    Nicely stated Yvette…

    Lincoln wasn’t malicious enough or consistent enough to be a Racist with a capital R. Voluntary colonization (especially during the height of slavery and before the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were passed and ratified) is not the same thing as segregration (which was a forced and reactionary oppression of equal rights 50 to 100 years after those amendments were passed.) What Lincoln deep-down felt in 1858 about black codes is nearly impossible to know..Unfortunately any talk of full equality was a wedge issue that stood in the way of any kind of emancipation (immediate or gradual). he was a gradualist who didn’t know for sure what he felt about race.. and wasn’t dumb enough to openly disagree with popular opinion in racist Illinois..(but he was pretty open to listening to more liberal ideas and did indeed evolve–what he signed, what he didn’t stop from happening say a lot about him.) He was consistent and steadfast about two things…(even long before he was president)..that slavery was wrong and the unilateral secession was the ‘essense of anarchy’..

    As for habeaus corpis, that matter is immensely complicated and his record isn’t nearly as bad as some people like to think..He did consider the constitution and intrepret it in the most practical ways possible.(it was chaotic situation to say the least)..And the South–their record ain’t as good as people love to claim (it wasn’t a bastion of civil liberties for white folk). (they did the same things basically.) Read Mark E. Neely’s two books on the topic of civil liberty restriction during the war. Lincoln is redeemed by those books (mostly) and the South is condemned a bit for its hypocrisy.

    Nice article Sasha…
    Day-lewis said recently that the flaws that Lincoln had would be much worse in other people because he understood himself and his flaws/limitations very well.. What he meant I think is that Lincoln’s lack of malice or lack of a stubborn adherence to antiquated ideas made it impossible for him not to evolve. He knew he didn’t know everything.

  15. tr
    February 12, 2013

    @Yvette

    I said Lincoln was worth admiration. Where in my statement does it imply I read a skewed and simplistic version of the man. I love Lincoln the film, but you can’t deny that the film does idolize him and does gloss over the fact that he was not a friend to civil liberties. There’s nothing to “get over.” These are facts.

    I do agree that Lincoln’s accomplishments override most of these qualms. I simply don’t like it when Hollywood perpetuates myth. Lincoln the film mentions these issues in passing, and I suppose that’s better than nothing, but it’s still unfortunate that Lincoln is perceived as a saint in many quarters (not saying he is here, but you can’t deny that public perception skews in a particular direction) despite the fact that he abused power in similar ways to Bush.

    Thanks for jumping the gun on my character, though.

  16. The Dude
    February 12, 2013

    Ryan, Jean Renoir was not born in February 12; he did the exact opposite, in fact.

  17. Yvette
    February 12, 2013

    ‘being an out-and-out segregationist racist, imprisoning journalists…’
    tr,
    You say myths, but these are also myths, only from the Southern apologists crowd.
    Lincoln shows how Lincoln weasled votes, bribed for votes…how he could be cold as a father to Robert….
    The film does not white wash him as a ‘saint’. If Lincoln has a halo in popular myth, it is because his strengths, moral victories, including the 13th amendment, overshadow any weaknesses he had. They tower over all that other stuff that is pure conjecture. No one can deny that he faught to get the amendment passed. So there were other factions fighting to abolish slavery….
    but they were not the President of the United States and therefore, they didn’t have the power to make it happen. Lincoln, in spite of the general mood of the people and his cabinet, got it passed.
    That is a fact.

  18. Sarah
    February 13, 2013

    I am a Canadian and I loved this movie. I remember saying to my friends at the end of the movie “It is amazing that for a long, talky movie, and we knew how it would end, I was riveted by it.” The performance of Daniel Day-Lewis (always brilliant) and the exquisite words of Tony Kushner, along with Spielberg’s gentle, loving direction, made this my favourite movie of the year.

    I greatly admired Argo and am happy for the success that it has received (glowing slightly because of the Canadian connection NOTE: I am old enough that I remember distinctly when this all happened. Ken Taylor was a hero to we Canadians and it was lovely, for once, to have Americans thanking Canada).

    However, if I had a vote with the Academy, my vote would go for Lincoln. If it does not win, I will be comforted that it will join many other great movies which did not win Best Picture over the years.

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