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Short takes

Not suitable under 13; parental guidance to 14 (violence, disturbing scenes and themes, coarse language)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Lincoln
  • a review of Lincoln completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 11 February 2013.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 13 Not suitable due to violence, disturbing scenes and themes and coarse language.
Children aged 13–14 Parental guidance recommended due to violence, disturbing scenes and themes and coarse language.
Children aged 15 and over Ok for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: Lincoln
Classification: M
Consumer advice lines: Mature themes, violence and coarse language
Length: 153 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Lincoln, set in the year 1865, portrays the fight by President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) to achieve the passing of the13th Amendment at the end of the American Civil War.  This Amendment was to forever ban slavery in the United States. For Lincoln passing the 13th Amendment through parliament was both a race against time and a moral dilemma. Ending the civil war would save countless lives, but if the war ended before the amendment was passed through parliament, Southern slaves who had been freed as a measure of war would again fall into slavery.

To acquire the needed votes, Lincoln gets the Secretary of State William Steward (David Strathairn) to hire lobbyists W. N. Bilbo (James Spader), Robert Latham ((John Hawkes) and Richard Schell (Tim Blake Nelson), promising them government jobs in return for the needed votes. Lincoln also needs the support of the leader of the abolitionists Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), who while staunchly supporting the 13th Amendment, opposes Lincoln in a number of other areas and appears hell-bent on bringing Lincoln down.

Interwoven into the film’s main story is the emotional turmoil of Lincoln’s family life.  His wife, Mary (Sally Field) is unable to come to terms with the sudden death of a son years earlier and displays signs of psychological instability. Meanwhile Lincoln’s son Robert (Joseph Gordon Levitt), who has recently returned from studying law at Harvard, is determined to enlist in the army - an act that threatens to push Mary over the edge.

The final leg of the film is a portrayal of the actual vote for the amendment. This is an intense touch-and-go situation involving some last minute personal lobbying by Lincoln as well as a degree of political sleight of hand.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Politics; American Civil War; Slavery; Mental illness; Assassination.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

The film contains intense re-enactments of American civil-war battle violence and carnage.  Examples include:

  • The film’s opening scene depicts a brutal and realistic battle between Union and confederate soldiers during which we see (at close quarters) men shot with rifles, stabbed with swords and bayonets, kicked, choked and punched in the face and pushed underwater and into mud and drowned; minimal blood and gore is depicted.
  • We hear a voiceover telling that confederate soldiers “killed every negro soldier they captured at Poison Springs... so at Jerkins Ferry we decided we weren’t taking no rebel prisoners.” 
  • A heated argument between Lincoln and his son ends with Lincoln slapping his son hard across the face. The film also contains a couple of heated and emotional arguments between Lincoln and his wife Mary.
  • We see the image of a burning city as the result of cannon bombardment and see large buildings engulfed in flames with the structures crashing to the ground.
  • Several scenes of heated verbal arguments among political representatives involving shouting, name calling and fist shaking.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of eight, including the following:

  • We see the aftermath of a battle with thousands of dead soldiers both Union and confederate. The dead bodies appear as an entangled mass amongst the wreckage of war. Some have their eyes open and some are pushed into the mud; one body appears to be mangled with the torso ripped open.
  • Several scenes depict Lincoln’s youngest son looking at disturbing photographs of negro slave children and adults, one photograph depicts the heavily scared back of a male slave the scars the result of being flogged with whip. In a later scene we hear how the photographs were taken away from Lincoln’s son due to him having nightmares.
  • In one scene we see a close-up depicting a museum display of a leg with skin and flesh removed to reveal the underlying bone and muscle.
  • One scene depicts a dead bird hanging from a tree branch by string around its feet.
  • An emotional discussion between Lincoln and his wife Mary regarding the sudden death of their young son, during which Mary with tears in her eyes says how her son was such a little boy and that she knew that he was going to die.
  • One scene depicts Lincoln visiting a hospital and we see several amputees sitting in bed with the stubs of their amputated legs wrapped in cloth. Outside the hospital we see a large pool of blood on the cobbled sidewalk and see wheelbarrow containing a covered mound being pushed along; we see the image of a bloody severed leg sticking out from under the cover. The wheelbarrow is pushed to a large ditch in the ground where its gruesome contents of severed legs and arms is tipped out into the pit which is then covered with dirt. 
  • One scene depicts Lincoln’s young son (ten years) watching a stage play when a man comes onstage and announces that Lincoln has been shot. The boy grabs hold of the balcony railing and screams in distress.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

Children in this age group will also be disturbed by the above-mentioned scenes.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the above-mentioned scenes.

Thirteen and overinfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Younger children in this age group may also be disturbed by some of the above-mentioned scenes.

Product placement

  • None noted.

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • In one scene we hear Lincoln’s older son telling Lincoln’s younger son (aged ten years) that slave owners pay more for female slaves if they can conceive.
  • One politician calls another politician a prostitute for selling his legislative vote.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • One scene depicts Thaddeus Stevens in bed with his housekeeper, both fully clothed in sleepwear.
  • One scene depicts Mary Lincoln removing clothes while getting ready for bed; no nudity is depicted.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Various characters throughout the film are depicted smoking cigars and pipes. In one scene a non-smoker coughs uncontrollably as a result of being in a room full of tobacco smoke. One scene depicts Lincoln’s son rolling a cigarette which he doesn’t smoke. One scene depicts a man taking a pinch of snuff.
  • A number of scenes depict characters drinking alcohol. A senator’s wife instructs her husband’s servant to get him drunk so that he can sleep during a long coach trip. One scene depicts a group of men drinking alcohol and playing cards. The men appear to be drunk - vociferous and unsteady on their feet.

Coarse language

The film Lincoln contains coarse language and name calling scattered throughout. Examples include:

  • Damn, shut up, god damn (used multiple times), gentle Christ, to hell with it, son of a bitch, shit on the people, piss in your pants, crap, well I’ll be fucked.
  • Niggers (used multiple times throughout the film), Alabama coon, hacks, fatuous nincompoop, brainless, dimwits, more reptilian than man, miserable old goat, idiot, buzzard’s guts.

In a nutshell

Lincoln is a political drama, focussing more on the political intrigue surrounding the passing of the 13th amendment than on Lincoln’s personal life. The film is targeted at older adolescents and adults.  Younger teens may find that the film too long and slow-moving to maintain their interest and there are some violent and disturbing scenes and themes which make it unsuitable for younger viewers. The film contains stunning performances by all of the film’s lead actors.

The main messages from this movie are:

  • The process of democracy is far from perfect, the process is a slow with end results taking a long time to achieve
  • Equality for all is worth fighting for.  

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • That slavery is wrong and should be abolished
  • Generosity, thoughtfulness, and intelligence as displayed by Lincoln

Parents may also wish to discuss peoples’ attitudes towards racism and bigotry. Are racism and bigotry just as prevalent today, simply involving different groups of people? What are some of the issues that cause people to develop racist and bigotted attitudes?