A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Lincoln is a tribute to a president who took leadership seriously and knew that, for the United States to continue, slavery would need to be abolished -- even if he wasn't personally a die-hard supporter of equal rights. There are also messages about work-life balance, letting children make their own choices, and realizing that all people have worth and a right to their freedom. Additional themes include integrity, courage, humility, and perseverance.
Positive Role Models
Lincoln is shown to be a thoughtful, intelligent, generous man who, while not as pro-equality as the abolitionists, is definitely insistent that the country abolish slavery. But he's not depicted as perfect: He's willing to play the political game of patronage (giving lame-duck Democrats political appointments) in exchange for getting the 13th Amendment passed. Thaddeus Stevens is the most progressive congressman, and he wants nothing short of total equality. The movie doesn't sit in judgment of or demonize the Confederates or Democrats who don't want to abolish slavery; they're depicted as closed-minded men who just can't fathom changing their way of life.
Violence & Scariness
Scenes of the Civil War are mostly shown in passing, but there's definitely carnage -- including bodies lying dead across battlefields. Mentions of casualties upset the president and his Cabinet. In an Army hospital, amputee soldiers greet the president, and then two soldiers bury a barrel full of severed limbs -- making Robert Todd Lincoln (and likely many viewers) sick. Although we don't see Lincoln's assassination, he's displayed dead, with a pool of blood surrounding him.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Mary and Abraham Lincoln embrace.
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As would have been accurate for the era, the words "Negroes," "coons," "coloreds," and "n-----s" are used to describe African Americans. Other strong language is peppered throughout and includes two uses of "f--k," plus "s--t," "bulls--t," "ass," "goddamn," "crap," "damn," "hell," "son of a bitch," and "oh my God."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Characters drink liquor (some to excess) and smoke cigars, pipes, and hand-rolled cigarettes (accurate for the era).
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Steven Spielberg's Lincoln isn't a biographical chronicle of Abraham Lincoln's (Daniel Day-Lewis) life in office but rather a political drama about the passing of the 13th Amendment and the end of the Civil War. The most sensitive issues in the movie are its depiction of war (severed limbs and bloody battlefields filled with dead soldiers are seen) and occasional strong language, including many era-accurate (but hard to hear today) racial epithets. But overall, the violence is much tamer than in war movies like Saving Private Ryan or Glory, and Lincoln is an educational, entertaining drama that even some mature 5th graders might be ready to handle, if they watch with their parents. (That said, it does move somewhat slowly, so kids hooked on fast-paced entertainment may not be interested.) To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
There's no better film to watch to pay witness to how even our country's greatest historical leaders still had to make quid pro quo overtures across party lines to move forward. Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's award-winning book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln is more about the political intrigue of Lincoln's final months than a "biopic" about his personal life. Day-Lewis' performance is a brilliant character study of a legendary man. Unlike the over-the-top characters Day-Lewis played in Gangs of New York and There Will Be Blood, his President Lincoln is an introspective man who tells stories that sound like parables and who exudes a powerful dignity, even in silence. As Mary Todd Lincoln, Field makes a passionate case for the First Lady's instability, stemming from the overwhelming grief of losing son Willie.
But one of the most startling performances in the film, which is so eloquently scripted by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, is courtesy of Tommy Lee Jones as Stevens. The uncompromising abolitionist congressman wants complete racial equality -- not just the legal extinction of slavery -- but even he knows that change sometimes comes in baby steps, not revolution.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.