Through a Glass Darkly for Nov. 21, 2012

By bob anderson

It’s been a long time since I heard applause in a movie theater.

“Lincoln” drew that response in at least one Baton Rouge theater as the credits began to roll last weekend.

As awkward as it is for people to clap after a movie, when neither actors nor others involved in the production can hear, I understood the reaction.

Applause didn’t race across the theater like a wave in a sport’s stadium. That also wasn’t surprising.

Perhaps one reason people felt able to applaud was that “Lincoln” has the feeling of a play about it.

But the movie gave viewers deeper reasons to unleash their feelings publicly.

Like “The King’s Speech,” this movie is about the inner struggle of a man to do what he feels he must, no matter how hard.

Unlike the personal battle of King George VI during World War II, the personal battle of the 16th American president near the end of the Civil War is one of philosophy and ethics.

It’s not the kind of superficial film filled with video-game action that engages so many modern moviegoers only to be forgotten when they reach their cars.

Even biographers create characters, because no writer can capture all of the complexities that make up a real person.

The characters in “Lincoln” engage, inspire and sometimes anger the audience.

The most poignant are Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens.

Daniel Day-Lewis conveys not just the looks of Abraham Lincoln but what I like to believe was his passion.

Lincoln’s legal logic and his penchant for storytelling came through, but this is not a schoolbook picture of Honest Abe. That and other historical interpretations will disturb some.

The script shows a man who was willing to step into the mire of politics to reach his passion’s goal.

For the first time, a depiction of Lincoln made me think of the political shrewdness of Lyndon Johnson.

Stevens, played by Tommy Lee Jones, is a man equally passionate, but more bound by ideology than the Lincoln depicted in this movie.

Like Lincoln, Stevens desires passage of the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery, but he wants more than that and almost loses the amendment in his bigger quest for human equality.

In one scene Lincoln talks to Stevens about a person’s moral compass. Lincoln tells Stevens that a compass can point a person north, but can’t tell him of all of the swamps and obstacles he must circumvent to get there.

It is Stevens, possibly more than Lincoln, who undergoes an important character change that is so often pivotal in a great story.

And the final five months of Lincoln’s life do make a great story.

The audience can decide whether the end was worth the political means. Each member of the audience can decide whether to applaud.

Advocate Florida Parishes bureau chief Bob Anderson welcomes comments by email to banderson@the
advocate.com.