“Just as I refuse to be a slave, I refuse to be a master. This is my idea of democracy.” Such, however, is not the opening quote of this film which occupies today, late release (made in 2014) in our times of authoritarian politicians and small vertical leaders. But the sentence is also, like the one inscribed at the opening – “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother” – of Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America loved by a humanist and elegiac tradition of cinema. After Griffith, Ford or Spielberg, here is a childhood of Lincoln, a little boy of rural, colonial and pioneer life, a kid like any other, only more brilliant, of this beginning of the 19th century. It’s an ethereal chronicle of the foundations, a story of the child’s high-flying “long time,” told in voiceover by his cousin who remembers. We are witnessing less a story of origins than the restitution of a base of beliefs from which American civilization is erected; foundations of hard work, spiritual peaks, natural religiosity, little house on the prairie, the father chops wood and works the land, the mother takes care of the house.
Archive of Spielberg’s “Lincoln”
Style steeped in puritanism
The early childhood of the great man, seen through the filter of an austere and pastoral dream, is filmed as if between parentheses, in suspension: innocuous stasis, eloquent incidences (an Amerindian appeared quickly, shackled slaves crossed in passing). First years of a life among the woods, in a style steeped in puritanism and transcendentalism à la Emerson, somewhere in the outback of Indiana. Correspondence of the child and the young American nation, thirty years after the principles had been proclaimed in the declaration of independence. “of freedom, equality and the right to the pursuit of happiness”. Chromos in black and white, Americana illuminated with low angles, scenes of crude education, caressed by the wings of the inspiring angel, of maternal protection: shadow of the deceased (Lincoln’s biological mother, who died prematurely of a poisoning of the water) or charity of the newcomer (the mother-in-law, widow who has come to take over as nurturer). The daily episodes are salient enough to shed meaningful insights into young Lincoln’s fate.
In fact, the film does not pose the political question of the master and the slave, but rather the aesthetic one of the master and the disciple, since the film is produced by Terrence Malick and is displayed loud and clear under the auspices of the “master”, his indie label, his added value. AJ Edwards, whose first production it was, editor of Perfectly and Knight of Cups, applies to the cliché to make its copy conform. Under the wing of angels, hay of visitation, is a tracing paper, marked with the irons of its copyist mannerism, under the influence of “the authority of the author”. It bends, suffocates under the tics, the wide angles, the rippling steadycam sweeps, the systematic jump cuts and the continual epiphanies, caught in the act of voluntary counterfeiting, because consented to on both sides: by the dominating mentor and the epigone plagiarist. The master and the slave.
Under the wing of angels by AJ Edwards, with Diane Kruger, Jason Clarke, Brit Marling… (1h 34).