02/08/2013 11:24 am ET Updated Apr 10, 2013


Just as I've been brooding about theatre and what it does that film cannot, I went to see Lincoln for the second time. There is no more vigorous movie about where we are right now. Yes, Lincoln is about the Civil War, but it is equally about the war between President Obama and Congress. Only in Lincoln, it is the Rebels, the Democrats, who are the bad guys.

Here they are, with the rigid defiant expressions our own president faces today. I started to say our own iconic president, but the implication of the word is too haunting. There's a moment when a character says of Lincoln, "he's aged 10 years-" and I think how, when we look at our own president's picture on his books, in 2007, and now, and we see the isolation of this office, when commanded with integrity and vision.

I cannot tell you about every frame I love, or why, because that would take longer than the movie itself and this movie is not long enough. Here, in Lincoln, Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner, give us suspense (hard to do when we think we know the story), momentum, the range of war -- vast battlefields plastered with bodies, the shell of faces left behind when the spirits are gone. Who else could get that look true without the vulgarity of the gory exposé?

But in Kushner's brilliant screenplay, character reigns, as it must in every true drama, as it does in every Steven Spielberg film. I wanted to wander along the road, watching the president, hunkered over in reflection, huddling in his shawl, angular as his horse. I wanted to be in Lincoln's world, as I am in a great novel for a day or so, to wrap it in my arms, go back to favorite lines, and expressions.

I want right now to freeze that instant, when somehow Mr. Spielberg casts a glint of light on Daniel Day Lewis' eye, the rest of his face in smoky shadow. I want to flip back to scenes, which astonished or amused me -- I'd like to summon up the congressional characters for comic relief, but then I can see that when our own Congress gets ready to muster up its next vote from the "Hicks and Hacks," -- that's how Lincoln called them. Or was it Tommy Lee Jones who said that? Those furry headed, pinched mouth palefaces; Congress matches up with everyone round here now. Wonder if they'd be surprised to learn lobbying's no new game.

It is a unique director who respects the writer's story and characters and at the same time, can endow it with the gorgeous plumage of film's transcendent tools.

The major wrangle here is the Thirteenth Amendment, which will promise equality for all. The mid-belly of our culture has only begun to digest (let alone resolve) this issue.
Lincoln is an emotional, fire dance of a story about a figure in American history who is so loved he is almost folklore. And yet we see real marital rage, and then intimate details -- the president helping his wife out of her corset -- maybe a touché' bookend to Gone With the Wind where Hattie McDaniel's cinches Scarlett up tight.

I want to hold the lines, the expressions, even the terror, the perfectly defined grief close -- each shot of Daniel Day Lewis and his sons, which tears your heart out as does the close up on this one grasp of Lincoln's hand, in the scene at Wilmington.

Even though the story begins with Abraham Lincoln as the president, you don't need flashbacks to show you how he was as a kid; you figure he walked at this angle; you catch that he was an awkward kid, tall for his age, far too smart, therefore bullied. So he'd wander off, think for himself. When the president says, after devastating news, "At times like this I'm best alone," he is that kid again, off to find the silence to fuel the rising force of ideas.

You guess, (well, I guess), Day Lewis, dreamed of Lincoln while he made Spielberg wait long for his answer (would he take the part?) And Lincoln sat around there, coaching Day Lewis -- until he had the turn of Lincoln's head, the brow shifts, the despair, the wry acceptance, and then the powerful assertion, "I am the president..." Perhaps Lincoln has visited our president. Or he saw the movie.

I'd like an hour more of Lincoln -- with an intermission (thank you) and could the cast come on stage real afterwards, to take cheers in their soft bow ties? I want to see the expressions again.

A week or so ago I saw Amour, and about 15 of us in the audience hung around in the theatre talking to each other, comforting each other. After Lincoln I wanted people to come back to a place I might have to gather around a candlelit table; (electricity would be impertinent) we'd talk about each character, each scene; exchanging moments, we'd talk about our president's hopes and how we can let him know we're with him.

This is a movie I'll want to see until I remember every move, every angle, the background images of every scene, (who was the man in the peacock blue embroidered jacket? how could I have missed his meaning?)

I won't forget the moment when Lincoln's valet holds the gloves the president has left behind, and gazes after Mr. Lincoln as he walks down the hallway in the dusk to the doorway with the glass panel like a sunset and you guess the valet senses he will not see his president again.

Only art and passion can create a world, in the burgundy, golden oak, and plummy silver tones of its time, a world so real that when you leave the theatre you are, uneasy, almost landed into a time you do not really know.