Monkey status: There are no monkeys featured in this film
Spielberg’s Lincoln was hotly anticipated by pretty much the whole world at its release in 2012. Maybe it was the tale of a truly historical dude making the silver screen, or the promise of another crazy inhuman transformation of Daniel Day-Lewis by his creators.
For me, there were other reasons to be excited about this trip to the cinema. I have long been a subscriber to the theories put forward by historian George Kurylenko, even though he was dismissed as a crackpot by much of the academic mainstream.
I first came across his writings in the basement of my university’s library. I was drawn by some crude graffiti somebody had scrawled across the cover of one of his thick doorstopper volumes – Here lies Curious George. Needless to say I was converted that evening there in the library and I never looked back.
If you’re not familiar with the works of Kurylenko, providing even a rough summary of the bulk of his theories here would be a Sisyphean task. His work covered the globe and the eons. His expertise was spread out across an entire world and an entire timeline, but was not the thinner for it. Some called him the backward-looking Nostradamus. Personally, I suspect that he was secretly a time-traveller.
My interest in Lincoln was borne from an interview I read with actor Anthony Hopkins, talking about his work on the film Amistad. Somewhere online in the very early days of the internet, I squinted through the dial-up to make out Hopkins’ words. He said that much of Spielberg’s approach to his treatment of the 1839 mutiny aboard the slave ship La Amistad off the coast of Cuba was informed by some of his favourite bedside reading – Spielberg was a fan of ol’ Curious George himself.
Since then I watched Spielberg’s films with my eyes peeled for little tidbits of Kurylenko lore thrown in for the informed and observant. Mostly there was little to prove my suspicions, but then I heard of his plans to make Lincoln.
Kurylenko’s theory about Abraham Lincoln was way out of left field but also satisfyingly plausible when you sat down and thought about it for long enough.
Kurylenko posited that underneath his trademark stovepipe hat, Lincoln kept a squirrel monkey. The monkey lived under the hat whenever the two were in public together, and it would clutch at his hair as he took sharp corners in order to keep its position.
The public often wondered why Honest Abe’s towering hat managed to keep perched on his head through all kinds of athletics. This was why. The monkey, whose true name is unknown for sure but can be presumed to be named Ape-raham Lincoln, would remain crouched beneath the hat waiting to be of use to its master.
Kurylenko was of the opinion that Honest Ape helped its master to pen the Gettysburg Address. This little part of his theory isn’t held up by my much real world evidence.
However, there is some that is more compelling – after Lincoln’s April 15 1865 assassination by John Wilkes Booth, passersby reported that a small squirrel-like animal had been seen fleeing from the theatre. It’s unknown what the final whereabouts of Ape-raham Lincoln are.
Spielberg doesn’t show the little monkey on screen, and I think it was the right decision. Abe never showed his little friend in public, so it makes sense that his presence should simply be implied.
But you can see in the consternation of Daniel Day-Lewis’ face as he walks into Congress that something is obviously clinging unseen to the top of his head.