When you think of iconic American Presidents, who comes to mind? George Washington? Thomas Jefferson? Teddy Roosevelt? I would almost wager that Abraham Lincoln is easily the most recognizable of the Presidents. While he did not help found the country like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson did, he was the one President who helped to unite a country after it fell apart at the seams during his presidency. Consequently, and in part due to his assassination, Lincoln is revered as one of the best Presidents this country has ever had. It’s no wonder we have memorials for him across Washington D.C., his image emblazoned on our currency, and his face carved out of the side of a mountain. Of course, since Lincoln was almost bigger than life in reality, as a fictional character he carries nearly the same amount of clout. This week’s two films focus on different interpretations of Abraham Lincoln.
Length: 150 minutes / 2.5 hours
Because the Civil War dominated Lincoln’s presidency, there are many sections of this American conflict that could be used as a backdrop for a biographical film. In part due to the vast amount of information collected about this war, it can be difficult to do the entirety of it any justice in the running time of a modern film. Many documentaries and miniseries have spent countless hours covering Lincoln and the Civil War, but if just one moment was to be the focus of a film about Lincoln, what would it be? Is it the Emancipation Proclamation? The Gettysburg Address? His first or second campaign for President? As is usually the case with many historical figures killed before their time, the events leading up to his death give a gripping and dramatic representation of a President who was tired of dealing with the Civil War.
Despite passing a war-time measure to free the slaves through the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) finds that what he has done in good conscience may be overturned once the war is over. Wanting to make the Proclamation permanent, he proposes the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which will be a final measure to abolish slavery in the United States. While it would be easier to ratify upon the meeting of the newly-elected Congress, the Civil War is likely to be finished by then, allowing the reacquired southern states to vote on the Amendment. Consequently, Lincoln wants to pass this Amendment quickly, but the rapidly upcoming peace negotiations with the Confederacy give many Congressmen pause; since it might be likely that a provision for peace would be to keep slavery in the South. With the Amendment finally up for a vote, Lincoln’s legacy lies in the hands of his Congress.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours
Even the best biographical films about Abraham Lincoln are bound to have their historical accuracy questioned somewhere along the line. Some of these films are made with entertainment in mind, as was the case with Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), which used Henry Fonda in the titular role to enact Lincoln’s “origin story.” But what if the lack of historical accuracy was not an issue? There are enough themes and motifs surrounding Lincoln’s persona that he could be used as a fictional character. Since he’s so ingrained in American history, films like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) can use the historical Lincoln as a fictional character. And yet, none of these films ever come quite as close to re-writing the former President’s history than Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) does.
As a young boy, Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) holds onto the pain of losing his mother by vowing to kill her supposed murderer, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). Almost a decade later, he attempts to get his revenge; but is almost killed when he learns that Barts is a vampire. His salvation comes in the form of Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who helps train Lincoln into a vampire hunter. Upon his successful completion of vampire hunter training, Lincoln finally manages to kill Barts, but not before he learns that Sturgess is also a vampire. At this point, Lincoln decides to quit his life as a vampire hunter and take up the mantle of politics to create the change he wants in the world. When the Civil War comes into full swing, Lincoln knows the Confederacy is using vampires to fight its battles. Sending all available silver to his Union troops, Lincoln decides to personally handle the head vampire himself.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 adaptations of Abraham Lincoln