The Dinner: Kebabs at Lola, 2000 4th Ave.
The Movie: Lincoln, Pacific Place 11, 600 Pine St.
The Screenplate: What does one say when they're the first to see something timeless; when standing on the front line, they witness something their gut tells them will be remembered as one of the greatest artistic achievements of all time? How does one form those first reactions to a moment that has yet to earn the title legendary, but surely will? I wish to describe Daniel Day-Lewis' performance as Abraham Lincoln, but there's a problem: I find it difficult to even call it a performance. More aptly, Day-Lewis changed shape, became a Lincoln lycanthrope. Day-Lewis has accomplished what every thespian has striven to accomplish since the Greeks first birthed drama more than 2,000 years ago. He has achieved acting nirvana. He became his subject. Dare I say it's perfect? I do.As if by magic, the idea that Day-Lewis--Bill the Butcher from Gangs of New York, Hawkeye from Last of the Mohicans, the quadriplegic Irish writer Christy Brown in My Left Foot--was that guy up on the screen never occurred to me. I was watching footage from a camera following the president around in the year 1865. His subtle, high-pitched portrayal methodically draws the viewer in. Day-Lewis seduces by withholding; what makes his performance so unique is that there is no "Oscar moment"--no tears, no clinched fists.
Lincoln was wise in inhuman amounts, yet somehow humble, too. In every description of the man, he is the modest genius who teaches without condescension, argues without insulting. Day-Lewis captures this air with perfection. For the star of a Hollywood movie, it must have been damn near impossible to resist the urge to ham it up a bit, but Day-Lewis, perhaps in deference to the man he portrayed, brought no ego to the role. Other notable achievements in the movie--the set and costumes that so capably bring Washington D.C. to life, the supporting actors whose performances are superb in their own rights--seem only to serve as the flat-topped pyramid upon which Day-Lewis' performance will sit, forever admired.
The movie spans the final months of both the war and Lincoln's life, focusing on the difficult passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery. Surely there is a reason Spielberg and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tony Kushner chose to base their movie upon this small sliver of history from Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals. In today's rigidly divided political climate, in which two powerful parties seem to find it exceedingly difficult to pass even the most minor of motions, it's refreshing to see that at one time in America, it was possible for something as divisive and titanic as the abolition of slavery to be passed, due in large part to individual politicians who, nearly unheard of today, were willing to break with their party to vote their conscience.
Be sure to mentally prepare yourself. You'll need to be well-rested and mentally agile because Lincoln charges full speed ahead. Without the benefit of a back story and name captions being few and far between, you're left scrambling to recall vague bits of every Civil War documentary and Lincoln biography you've ever ingested just to maintain some sense of what is happening onscreen. Unless you're a Civil War buff, two viewings are probably necessary to come away with a clear picture of what just happened, and to me, that's just fine. Art should be just out of one's reach; how else would it elevate those around it? Like a breath of fresh air, Lincoln treats its audience with enough respect to require something of it, a diamond in the ocean of sugar-coated shit that is our popular culture.
And now it's time for a short story before dinner. The year was 1858, two years before Lincoln would muster the nuts to make a run at the Presidency. Lincoln was running against incumbent and great orator Stephen A. Douglas for a seat in the U.S. Senate. The two campaigned around Illinois, meeting up seven times to match wits in the most famous debates in American history. Lincoln lost the race, but increased in political stature nonetheless.
To honor the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and reunite the two great names, I left Lincoln and headed to Douglas--Tom Douglas that is, and his Mediterranean-inspired eatery, Lola. Lincoln would have appreciated the simple grilled meats and cheeses that comprised the happy hour kebabs, but the plume which erupted after pouring a shot of ouzo onto the cast iron fajita plate would have sadly reminded him of his battlefield visit to the site of First Manassas. The pork and chicken were tender and savory and would have provided the protein necessary to fuel the gaunt, muscular arms that legend tells us, fully extended, could hold a splitting maul perfectly level.
Though the food at Douglas' Lola was fine, this eighth debate, in which the competitors argued their respective merits, goes to Lincoln.