Capturing Lincoln – Or the First Sixteen Minutes Minutes That I Missed on My First Viewing

Just managed to catch the first sixteen minutes of Lincoln which I had missed on my first viewing. Spielberg does begin Lincoln with an unflinchingly macabre scene of war which is not all that bloody yet very bleak because of the low lighting and rain effect. There is a shot where a soldier’s face is shown trampled under the leg of an enemy but because of heavy rains flooding  the battle arena, his face becomes invisible to us and it is left to our imagination that he must have drowned.

The scene is then seamlessly shifted to a head shot of a black soldier speaking to Lincoln. While he seems to be a little hesitant in expressing his thoughts, his younger, more tenacious companion brings up the matter of including black soldiers in the higher ranks of the army. Throughout the scene, only the back of Lincoln’s head is seen until he asks the soldier what he would do after the war ends. It is then that we get a first glance of Lincoln’s sculpted face. As the soldiers are talking two white soldiers enter the scene and one acts a little kiddish when he asks Lincoln what his height is (reminded me of that ridiculous question asked by a reporter to Daniel Day Lewis after he won an Oscar: ‘Did you enjoy wearing a beard?’). Then we hear the two white soldiers alternatively reciting the famous Gettysburg address till they are summoned by the army. As the black soldiers join them, the young one speaks the last part of the speech before heading off to the rest of the army. This entire portion from the entry of the two white soldiers to the fade-out does seem a tad stagy but fortunately not too distracting.

We are next announced about Lincoln’s party getting re-elected and the civil war still continuing. Then is a scene between Lincoln and his wife Mary, and we can easily sense Mary’s uxorial concern towards Lincoln by the way the camera pans at her face whenever she speaks and then cuts to the next shot of Lincoln in the foreground calmly answering her while she seems at a distance (wide-angle shots), still worried about him. Mary warns him not to take up the thirteenth amendment in Parliament as it was ‘bound to be rejected’ and is more concerned about his well-being and security (we hear that an assassination attempt has already taken place). Lincoln leaves the room and goes to his youngest son who asks him when his elder brother was coming back; Lincoln tells him grievingly that his brother would not come back.

The scene shifts to Lincoln giving a small speech before leaving with his political aides to discuss about the thirteenth amendment. As Lincoln along with two party members is taken in a carriage, one of them warns Lincoln about the high probably of the bill getting rejected for lack of votes in the Parliament. The conversation continues in the office where they are accosted by two people who show support for Lincoln’s proposal.

Interesting to note how subtly Spielberg uses the camera to highlight the different relations Lincoln has with his soldiers, his wife and with the party members. Except the little screen time given to show soldiers battling, the way Abraham Lincoln is introduced (his first interaction with black soldiers which highlights the empathy he shares with them) reminds me of the introduction of Queen Elizabeth 2 in The Queen: The Queen interacts with a painter while getting her portrait done where she asks him whether he had voted for Tony Blair to which the latter replies in the negative for the reason that he still cherished old values and was against the reformations that Blair promised to bring in England. The Queen is pleased with his reply obviously, being a conservative thinker herself. I think even the 2010 film King’s Speech (about George VI) had a similar style of introducing the purpose of the film i.e. doing something about King George’s fear of public speaking. There is a similarity is the way most biopics begin; they all highlight the most important trait about the person which is manifested in the way he/she handles the circumstance that is to be faced soon in the movie.

More Oscar Nominated Films to be reviewed soon (I know the word ‘Oscar nominated‘ might put off some who consider the Oscars to be overrated, but no one would care if I put ‘the NYFCC award winner …’ (which I’m very excited about) so please bear with the frequent reference to ‘Oscar’!)


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