“EVERY MAN over forty is responsible for his face,” said Abraham Lincoln.
But, how well do you know Lincoln’s face and what it tells us about the man?
A sensitive and insightful answer comes from the Rev. Dr. Duncan Newcomer, who sent me the following essay and gave us permission to reproduce it. He is the author of Desperately Seeking Mary, a spiritual memoir and a polemic for the Sacred Feminine.
Most photographs of Lincoln show his right cheek and face, the side with his famous mole. However, the complexity of Lincoln—his embracing of ambiguity and opposites—is reflected when you cover one side or the other of a more rare front-view photograph. Two entirely different views of the man are revealed. Try it, and yet both seem all like Lincoln. How he knit together, with those furrows in his brow, two half-globe opposites into one visage is a personal triumph like his epoch victory in holding together the Union.
It is the aspect of the left side of his face that Daniel Day-Lewis so dramatically shows us in the new film, the so-called feminine side. Photographers in his day actually referred to Lincoln’s left face as his weak and feminine side. One cautioned to only show the virility of his right and masculine side. Day-Lewis, radiating a near-mystic and introverted man, shields Lincoln’s inner life—and the powerful mechanisms of his logic and his fury—with a down-turned, eye-avoiding, head, the left side mostly showing.
Lincoln was a big-boned man, six feet four inches tall and all muscle at 200 pounds. Winning a big wrestling match as a youth he could and did proclaim, “I’m the big buck of this lick!” In rare moments in the new film Day-Lewis nearly approaches the vitality and cascading power that was inherent in Abraham Lincoln.
Yet at the end of his life, and this is the time frame of the movie, in the last photographs of this mysterious, near-prophet, leader, Lincoln shows his left cheek, and all the wistful sweet soft gentleness that was the soul of his inner life and the source of his greatest wisdom, “with malice toward none and charity for all….”
As Daniel Day-Lewis professed, before he finally accepted the offer to play the role, no one can really play Lincoln. But more, who has ever tried to play this crucial side of Lincoln’s many faceted self—his nearly ethereal, transcendentally indifferent, playful, gentle yet fierce side, as if a wounded mother lion? No lion in the winter is he, but in the Easter-April spring, when the ancient ritual of lambs to slaughter stirs the willing sacrifice that saves. Mother love, that is the archetype.
Look closely at Lincoln …
What do you see in his face?
What do you think of Duncan Newcomer’s analysis?
Please, leave a Comment below.
Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.