As I sat in the theater on Thanksgiving, sandwiched between my brother and a blond woman I didn't know, watching the third of an eventual five warnings either to silence or turn off my phone before the movie—this one featuring a clueless and charming Billy Crystal fretting that an incoming unknown caller might be important and answering to the horror that it's only his dry cleaner informing him that a stain couldn't be removed—I couldn't help but wonder: Who seriously answers their phone during a movie anymore? And when did Billy Crystal get so old?
I was there for Lincoln. Well, no. I was there for Daniel Day-Lewis, and he just happened to be in Lincoln. It's been my opinion for quite some time now that Daniel Day-Lewis is the finest actor alive today, and I was frothing to watch him take on the role of arguably America's finest president.
Though I couldn't help but notice, as the previews began to roll, that the aspect ratio of the screen was off, leaving huge gaps above and below the picture, and for some trailers, to the sides as well. I tried to put it out of my mind. Daniel Day-Lewis. Abraham Lincoln.
The movie began and everyone finally shut up. I was stunned by how easily Day-Lewis seemed to assume the role, how quickly he disappeared into it, how enrapturing his performance was. I was initially impressed with the focus of the movie, homing in specifically on the issue of the 13th Amendment alone, ignoring the greater conflicts at hand until the moments it needed to instill upon the audience just how great those conflicts were and how much pressure they put on the 13th Amendment and on Lincoln himself.
I started mentally taking notes: There are so many recognizable actors in this movie. Tommy Lee Jones is stealing the show. The soundtrack is overbearing, a little too broad and sweeping to really have an impact. It gives too much reverence and not enough reality. My god, Tommy Lee Jones is stealing the show.
Then the yawning began.
All around me, I could hear people yawning and growing restless. They would wake during the more intense scenes—Lincoln arguing with his cabinet, the members of the House of Representatives yelling at and insulting each other, Tommy Lee Jones being anywhere on-screen—but during the less gripping parts of the movie, the yawns began to chorus around the theater. Specifically, the woman beside me, and the woman behind me.
I don't think I've ever hated anyone
more than that man right then.
Now, let me just clarify: These were not the polite, quiet yawns of a normal, considerate person. These were audible yawns, comically loud and impossibly impolite. These were the kind of yawns you'd base an episode of Seinfeld on, the kind that annoys Jerry to the point that he ignores George's warnings and finally turns around to confront the offending yawner. Fast-forward to Jerry being escorted out of the theater. Well, I decided that I didn't want to be escorted out of the theater, so I just sat there instead, plotting how I'd passive aggressively get my revenge by complaining later on the Internet like any self-respecting modern man.
An ominous rumbling shook our theater momentarily. A few people looked around. It rumbled again. The sound was bleeding through from another movie like a half-naked Chinese man sprawled on your dining room table during a dinner party: noticeably. And then, it happened. It finally happened.
A guy actually answered his phone during the movie.
His phone rang. He didn't silence it. After all the melodramatic warnings, he answered it anyway, began talking, then stood up and began to walk out of the theater. "Hey, I'm in a movie," I probably heard him say on his way out. "Yeah, Lincoln. It's shit. Of course I'm still in the theater; so what? Well, fuck them, right? Hahahaha!"
I don't think I've ever hated anyone more than that man right then.
The woman beside me, one of the serial yawners, began to scratch her arm. You wouldn't think that would be a big deal, but it was like someone had just told her that she had a parasite in her arm that would kill her before the credits if she couldn't dig it out in time. It was deafening. And all the while, she had the raw, unfettered audacity to claim the entire armrest for herself.
Listen. I'll admit that Lincoln is not the most exciting film I've ever seen. It's too long, it's often meandering, and it putters across the finish line instead of roars because it didn't have the good sense to know when to end, trying to turn Lincoln into a god to be worshipped by suddenly deciding that it can't resist but needlessly tackle Lincoln's assassination in the most bizarre way imaginable: from the perspective of a different theater receiving the news. But it's certainly not so boring that it deserves to be yawned through. Really, Lincoln the film is a lot like Lincoln the man. It's deliberate. It takes a winding path to its destination, but it gets there eventually.
As we left the theater, my family started talking about what they thought of it:
"I don't think it's the kind of movie I'd watch more than once," my brother started, "but I really liked it."
"Oh, it was a fantastic movie," said my dad. He's the kind of person who falls asleep during movies and needs to be poked awake, so coming from him, that's high praise. "What great acting!"
"Yeah, I really liked that guy who played Lincoln," my mom agreed. "And Sally Fields did such a wonderful job. What'd you think?" They all looked at me. I kept walking.
"I think I need to get as far away from this theater as I possibly can."
Lincoln / 2hr 30min / Released November 9, 2012Tweet