Last night I saw a remarkable film at the Sundance Film Festival that reminded me of Damon, as many things still do. The film, a visually arresting black and white narrative called The Better Angels, deals with the early hardscrabble childhood and formative family struggles of a young boy, age 7-10, who would go on to become Abraham Lincoln. The boy loses his mother to an early death from disease in the unforgiving Indiana wilderness, leaving him even more exposed to a harsh and uneducated if sternly principled father; but then he is saved when the father remarries a kind and sympathetic woman who becomes a loving second mother. Directed by A. J. Edwards, an editor and second unit director on several Terrence Malick films including, The New World and The Tree of Life–Malick is an executive producer of The Better Angels–the film features several extraordinary performances including first-time actor Braydon Denney as the young Lincoln. Denney, with his open, steady-eyed innocence and dreamy otherness, his obvious intelligence and sensitivity, and his quietly fierce determination reminded me of Damon.
I have worked with several people involved in the film, which also made it feel more personal: Brit Marling, who plays the birth mother Nancy Lincoln, won our Sloan Sundance feature film prize as co-writer for Another Earth and appears in this year’s Sloan winner, I, Origins: Diane Kruger, who plays the stepmother Sarah Lincoln, is developing a film about Hedy Lamarr with us: and executive producer Nicolas Gonda was involved with us on on another Terrence Malick project, Voyage of Time. Robert Redford, Sundance president and founder, slipped in quietly to the seat before me after the lights went out and watched the film in its entirety before slipping out after the Q & A.
One of the film’s signal achievements is to jettison all the traditional baggage of the historical biopic and plunge us directly into nature and the immediate lives of its protagonists, who have no names and could be us. It’s a bold approach that will make some uncomfortable but it rewards those willing to jump in and immerse themselves in this unique, and uniquely revealing, world.
Let the birds and the angels sing.