Dense and beautifully shot, My Life as Abraham Lincoln is as intentionally confused as is its main character, Cindy (Carolyn Luft), who attempts to navigate the converging juxtapositions of memory, expectations, the vacillating importance of matrimony, and a patriarchal society. For Cindy, her life is comprised of a series of iconographies. Photos of her best friends that hang on the wall are tangible and apparent, each one introduced to us as a snap shot with a bit of background information you might find in a Facebook bio or a status update. Cindy’s own wedding – or almost wedding – is first relayed to us in staccato, Polaroid imagery: the presence of a bride and groom, a solitary bride, an apprehensive face waiting to provide her parents with inconvenient news. But these frozen moments are merely that, eliding the other twenty-three hours and fifty-nine seconds in a day and all the ups, downs, traumas, and joys that they encounter.

Other images exist within her overworked mind, wonkifying linear time and creating a simultaneous deluge of past, present, and future. The film pulls from Kurt Vonnegut’s fictional Kilgore Trout when it introduces the idea that “time is just a dimension” and is a convergence of the past, present, and future. As exposition, this theory is necessary inasmuch as it rationalizes the presence of a young Cindy at the side of her adult self. Looking for work to supplement her income while working on her mystery novel, Cindy meets with a middle-school friend, now a condescending, patronizing editor for a magazine who is looking for someone to write “an article that shows women what a real relationship is” and to elucidate what women are doing “wrong.”

As theory, the source is, at first, a bit disconcerting in that Trout is a fictional personification of the assertions of Henri Bergson in Matter and Memory and Gilles Deleuze in Difference in Repetition. I don’t point this out to belittle the writer and director Shari Berman, but rather as a compliment to astuteness in storytelling in that “Trout” becomes the more easily accessible icon from whom Cindy can create a theory that memory “plays tricks on you and changes everything.” Simply put, popular culture is pervasive, shapes our thoughts, and influences our actions, much in the same way that the emphasis of marriage is instilled on young women from their childhood.

For Cindy, Trout is more quickly digestible than the numerous works of Bergson and Delueze. In the same vein, this mirrors the constructed protocol of marriage that positions it as the ultimate “good” and the determined marker of a successful life that is, initially, easier to swallow than bucking the norm.

This theme is apparent as is Cindy’s repressed sexuality. To Berman’s credit, this issue – one that could go on for days – is subtly delivered in brief flashbacks instead of long diatribes and laments. As a young girl, Cindy wanted to wear a short skirt, but was guided into cooking and playing the piano – two traits that were more likely to make her a good wife. She also dreamed of being Veronica Lake, the famous, thrice-divorced actress and pinup model who seethed sexuality (Kim Basinger’s character in L.A. Confidential is made to look like the actress and is sardonically complimented as looking “better than Veronica Lake). Regardless, she’s hardly the idyllic housewife.

Cindy’s disillusionment with the construct encourages her to seek various adventures: “working in a clinic for Eskimos,” travelling “the globe for alternate forms of fuel,” increasing “third world economies,” teaching “Shakespeare” and cutting “off her hair for charity” among others. But, in a comical, precise hallucination, each potential venture is overridden by the importance of dating and putting herself on the path to marriage via a dating service, which, if nothing else is concurrently the normalizing and mechanizing of relationships: placing a profile into a processing machine – or in this case, a Jewish man – and waiting for a result birthed from a convoluted algorithm centered on general personality categorizations.

All in all, the battle between desire and social acceptability limns a world where neither Cindy, nor the audience, is sure what’s real and what is fictitious. In what might be the best moments of the film, Cindy constantly attempts to reframe her life through different film genres: musical, noir, stage-play, foreign film, murder mystery. The journeys we take are entertaining but mordantly clever in that each representation casts Cindy as the minor supporting actress. Here, perhaps we can also borrow a tidbit from George Hubert Mead, who suggests that the self is already “in the attitude of the other.” Simply put, we are the product of other relations: friends, family, and the art that we consume. Therefore, the pop culture, artistic, expressive worlds in which Cindy immerses herself allow no escape; instead, they become representations of the social construct that, theoretically, they are meant to transcend. The suggestion here is that, even as an artist, Cindy and her creativity are caught in a circuit of subservience.

The various genre interludes also create a commentary on the streamlined, almost manufactured, process of storytelling. The same character (Cindy) exists in each genre, and in each one, she performs a similar role, searching for the same result. In one sense, it feels that My Life as Abraham Lincoln is successfully satirizing the creative process, suggesting that our overindulgence in pop culture and familiarity with various genres creates more mechanized, perfunctory narratives – much in the same way that dating has been mechanized. On the other hand, this film also suggests that the monotony in such pop culture is doing little to alter the landscape of gender-typing; rather, it might just be perpetuating the status quo.

I’m not sure that I necessarily want to agree with the latter assertion, though it is difficult to stumble upon John Berger’s belief in Ways of Seeing that “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only the relationships between men and women, but also the relation of women to themselves” and know that it was not written today, but forty years ago.