Review copyright 2012 by Jonathan Zap
Everyone whose soul is not completely eaten away by cynicism should see this superb film. First, a few sentences of conventional movie review: An inspired and inspiring performance by Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and a great supporting cast. Attention to period detail and authenticity that incarnates the gritty world of 1865 America so well, that at times you feel you can smell the damp wool, cedar planks, fountain pen ink, Kentucky bourbon and muddy streets filled with horse manure. Spielberg got permission from the Kentucky Historic Society to record the ticking of Lincoln’s actual pocket watch, so that when you hear Lincoln pensively listening to the sound of his watch, you are hearing the same sound that Lincoln heard. The choice of Tony Kushner to write the screenplay shows a commitment to create a soulful experience—a commitment that this inspired collaboration of talented people fulfills.
Besides its success on every level of cinema, this film also succeeds in the conjuration, the incarnation, of what I call a “talismanic personality.” A talismanic personality is one that is numinous and inspiring, an exemplar of wholeness that reminds us of what Lincoln called the “better angels” of human nature. In the presence of a talismanic personality all that is superficially glamorous is revealed as the shoddy, mediocre product of false personality and inflated ego.
The photographs of Lincoln’s face reveal to anyone with an ounce of intuition that he is an old soul’s old soul, an embodiment of seriousness of purpose, moral gravitas, and the visionary intelligence to see through to the heart of a matter. The portrait of Lincoln in the movie is not a hagiographical idealization, but rather a and authentic grandeur. As portrayed in the movie, Lincoln personifies and dramatizes the principle that the alchemists endeavored to live by—to do every action, large or small, as if the fate of the whole universe depended on it. The big screen has brought us so many antiheros, false personalities, and morally ambiguous men of action; Lincoln is a rare chance to see the magic of cinema incarnating a fully realized, noble personality from our mythic past.