Apparently, Farragut North is finally making it to the big screen as The Ides of March. I’ll believe it when I see it. And more importantly, I’m not sure I care. Young-politico-rises-high-only-to-be-felled-by-sexy-intern isn’t a unique story any more. At this point in our politics, where David Vitter can survive a hooker scandal and stay in office, it isn’t even one that’s true to the times. And perhaps most importantly, it has little to do with the rot that distorts our national conversation. It’s a falsely fresh narrative.
I don’t particularly think an Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter movie will be good (though the suggestion that Ty Burrell take on the title role, appearing in comments here, is inspired). But I do think the fact that we’re getting an Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter movie is somewhat worth considering.
Over the past ten years, we’ve had three big-budget, marquee-name Civil War movies: Cold Mountain, Gangs of New York, and Gods and Generals, which made respectively $173 million, $193 million, and $12.9 million. Of those three, the first two movies, and the most commercially successful, deal with the core issues of the Civil War somewhat elliptically. Cold Mountain explores how non-planter Southerners survived during the war amidst the rising corruption of the Confederate Home Guard, and essentially ignores slavery. Gangs of New York takes place against the backdrop of the New York draft riots, and a performance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Union gunships play key roles in several plot points, but the movie is about underlying and separate ethnic and nationalist tensions rather than about the key issue of the war itself. One could blame Gods and Generals’ lack of success on the fact that it’s a more serious look at Stonewall Jackson, but really the culprit must be the movie’s 214-minute running time (the director’s cut, still unreleased, is almost 6 hours long).
But I do wonder if we’re in a space where there just isn’t the appetite for moral Civil War movies—and it’s hard to know if there ever was. Glory, for example, only made $28 million, despite its three academy awards, and Gettysburg, even longer than Gods and Generals at 262 minutes, only made $10.8 million. As we’ve seen, time and time again, this country remains profoundly divided over the memory of the Civil War, and it’s hard to see studios excited to make movies that risk alienating audiences on one side or the other of that divide, especially given past commercial performance.
The safer route is avoidance and backdrop, or not, apparently, parody. Abraham Lincoln’s heroism can’t be about reunifying a broken and bloody country, or about a morally complicated act of liberation. We can’t handle that. But we can handle Lincoln staking John Wilkes Booth. Human or vampire, we can generally agree that Wilkes Booth sucks.