Movie Review: Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner

By Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D
Movie Magazine International
Feature documentary WRESTLING WITH ANGELS: PLAYWRIGHT TONY KUSHNER takes us into the world of the prolific Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning playwright through his work, political action, and interviews. Veteran Director/Producer Freida Lee Mock - Academy Award Winner for MAYA LIN: A CLEAR STRONG VISION – became interested in Kushner when she read a short essay from his book, Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness," and found it "funny, generous, openhearted, politically astute, surprising…"

Later Mock heard him deliver an incisive and funny one-minute commencement speech triumph that she said surprised and inspired everyone, about the prospect of a better world. When Mock contacted Kushner to talk about making a documentary about him, Kushner told her, "I don't do anything; all I do is sit and write." Mock follows him around for three years from after September 11 to the 2004 election, and what we witness is anything but him just sitting and writing. Kushner is a courageous man living his life fully and speaking the truth. Playwrights are supposed to take complicated ideas, give them clarity and make them accessible. Each time we see him speaking he does just that, whether it is at an anti-war rally before the Iraq Invasion, a high school class talking about writing, or a panel discussing the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

With no narration, Mock's camera accompanies Tony Kushner going through his life as an activist, playwright, and family member or friend from delivering the famous commencement address, to agonizing over a tepid review, to beaming as he cuts his wedding cake. Kushner's is the first gay marriage ever reported in the NY Times wedding section. Kushner writes and talks with gravity, humor, and insight about the vexing social issues of our time such as war, the AIDS pandemic, race, class, lesbian and gay issues, genocide and terrorism. He says we have an "ethical obligation to look for hope," and "It's an ethical obligation not to despair."

Mock wisely shows several scenes from Kushner's plays or other productions. In one, a First Lady Laura Bush character reads to dead Iraqi children, before the Iraq Invasion even began. Scenes from "Caroline, or Change," about race and class help us understand Kushner's insights.

Kushner and his brother tour their boyhood town, Lake Charles, Louisiana, and we learn how their parents supported Kushner's pursuit of the arts from the beginning. We learn about the seeds of Kushner's creativity and how some of his stories evolved.

Remembering those early days following September 11, I recall how scary and tenuous everything seemed. I wonder if Freida Lee Mock was drawn to Tony Kushner and maybe even derived solace from being near him, which made this project attractive. Kushner's profound sense of justice and hope emerge through all his works. As artists can, he cuts through to the heart of ideas with profound clarity – using his medium of words - which resonate deeply. WRESTLING WITH ANGELS is an evocative film that shows us the essence of Tony Kushner, an uplifting and transformative experience.

My interview with Freida Lee Mock will air next week. For Movie Magazine this is Joan Widdifield.
More Information:
Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner
Written/directed by Freida Lee Mock