Abraham Lincoln’s sexuality has been the subject of heated debate. His intimate relationship with Joshua Fry Speed, and possibly two other men, has been analyzed, proven, and disproven in several biographies leading us to conclude only that Lincoln was married, had children, and may or may not have been bisexual.
Don’t look to Steven Spielberg’s epic ‘Lincoln’ to answer that question. Spielberg does right to avoid it altogether. His movie is about a specific period of time – the months immediately following Lincoln’s re-election – and specifically about Lincoln’s frame of mind and demeanor during that period. The movie is a character study, a peek into the soul of one of our greatest presidents. Having said that, one could argue that Lincoln’s intimate friendships with men may have had a significant impact on his thoughts and character and, therefore, critical to show in a biopic. Agreed.
Spielberg hits the jackpot by casting Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln. Day Lewis is one of the few actors able to convey the inner life of a character. His method of preparation for this role is already legend. The result is an actor who completely disappears into the skin of the character. But Day Lewis is also a gracious actor to get out of the way of other actors and let them shine in their own roles. All supporting performances are strong. Particularly noteworthy is Tommy Lee Jones as Congressman Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania. That’s largely due to the sharp, witty script by openly gay author and playwright Tony Kushner who puts some of the meatiest lines in Stevens’ mouth. Still, this is yet another grouchy old man role for Jones.
The movie itself – with its long scenes of partisan bickering on the floor of the House of Representatives – could be forgotten in a few months because it is much too understated, and sometimes boring, for a Spielberg production. But two things are likely to remain burned in a viewer’s mind for a long time to come. And they are the brilliant, standout performances by Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Field (as Mary Todd Lincoln). The scene where they rehash the memory of their son Willie’s death is gut-wrenching to watch. It made me wish that perhaps there should be a sequel focusing on Lincoln’s married life. And perhaps that movie could be the appropriate story to explore his friendships with men. Directed by Todd Haynes, maybe?