Introverted, depressed, and often suicidal. For every person who felt the shock of the assassination of the 16th President of the United States, the person least surprised it could happen was Lincoln himself… after all, he’d already seen it all in a dream.
From his humble beginnings as a Kentucky farmer to his rise in politics as a statesman and future president, very few knew what trials Abraham Lincoln faced on his road to glory. Harder yet was overcoming his lack of education or his father’s insistence that physical labor was more important than ideas of the future. Yet in spite of everything he overcame, his triumph over his inner demons may have been the most impressive for as long as he was able to do so.
While The History Channel’s “Lincoln” is a fascinating presentation, I cannot stress enough just how depressing all of it is. Childhood tragedies, parental abuse, and simply overcoming the perception of being a backwoods hick were all internal as well as external battles. Lincoln is portrayed as an introvert who escaped his present by looking very far ahead, even if all he saw there was ruin. Even his love life was marred by tragedy and denied happiness; many colleagues were quoted as hearing Lincoln talk about killing himself. While there is a lot to cover, both the running time (3 hours with commercials) and the depressing topic can wear even the most interested viewer down, so keep comfort food close and high spirits out of reach (or a good DVR so you can pause for a happy time intermission).
A score of passionate authors in the subject recount more of the man through their research, but especially haunting is seeing and hearing author Douglas Wilson almost channel Lincoln himself as if from beyond the grave. It is through these kinds of interviews that one has to wonder if Lincoln had more in common with Edgar Allen Poe than George Washington; a poem about suicide is even included among his written works. With minimal actor portrayals complimented with beautiful location shots (including a rare look inside the Lincoln Memorial, not just the well-known exterior) and period-restored interiors, “Lincoln” follows the future leader from farmer’s son to statesman with all the stops in between.
Each of these events also had bearing on shaping the man. Without his pain, a happier and more content man might not have been driven to succeed; Lincoln was driven by his own ethical code of right and wrong. His speech about the equality of all men not only set his path to the presidency and sparked the Civil War, but his championing of voting rights for the freed slaves afterward likely sealed his fate. In the end, very little was done to protect the Mr. Lincoln from his inevitable demise, but when you walk with death as your lifelong companion, it isn’t difficult to find the dark cloud in every silver lining.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)