“To get a richer sense of Spielberg’s contribution to the small collection of movies about Lincoln, I want to zero in on a couple of specific moments in the two I mentioned earlier. Young Mr Lincoln famously concludes with Abe (Henry Fonda) in silhouette, walking away from the camera and towards a storm. Spielberg echoes this iconic image of a silhouetted, lonely man approaching his destiny.
“What is most interesting about Abe Lincoln in Illinois, starring Raymond Massey, is how it presents the president’s well-known oratorial skills. It shows his affinity for the funny story and also his capacity for soaring rhetoric, something that really shines through in a scene towards the end of the film where he debates with presidential candidate Stephen Douglas (played by Gene Lockhart). One shot repeatedly frames Abe with the flame of a streetlight illuminating the platform on which he stands. Intended or not, this serves as a powerful image of him striving to illuminate a collective consciousness.
“In Spielberg’s film, this association between Lincoln and an illuminating flame is emphatically deployed in a beautifully rendered shot during the film’s concluding moments. We see Abe on his deathbed and then a close-up on a candle flame in which we see him addressing an audience. This delicate visual effect segues into a wide shot recreating the famous black-and-white photograph of Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address on 4 March 1865. (We might see an echo of another Spielberg drama about the traumas of war, Schindler’s List, a film that also makes much use of a candlelight motif.)”
UK critic James Clarke compares Lincoln to previous Lincoln films in his great review of Spielberg’s movie.