Milk (2008)

Saw this last night.  Sean Penn’s skills at acting are certainly amazing.  Actually, overall, all of the actors were amazing.  The film itself was put together nicely with stock footage from the 70s.  One such use of stock footage was the brilliant opening sequence where men were being rounded up by the police and taken down to the station in paddy wagons just for fraternizing in gay bars.  The viewer should make direct associations between this and other major blemishes on our national reputation for embarassing civil rights atrocities.

Obviously the story of Harvey Milk is a reminder of the long journey still ahead for gay rights.  Even today, nearly forty years later, we are still struggling to grant basic civil rights to homosexuals and to have a generally positive national attitude towards homosexuals.  Really, if this film shows anything, it’s that we haven’t come very far overall.  We still have the same biases and fears that the Anita Bryants of our time capitalize on.  They use the same old tactics as they did back then.  I’ve said before on this blog that we haven’t learned a thing from history.  What’s our problem?  It’s sad. 

I suppose the fact that we’ve elected our first African American President is testament to the long journey to equality that this film is trying to inspire for homosexuals.

The final sequences of the film were poetic: Harvey’s late-night phone call to Scott, his visit to the opera, and his last look at the world. 

I think what sticks out to me the most about this film is that danger from the outside (i.e. from the unknown, general public) is sometimes the most frightening on the surface, but in this case, it is the danger lurking always already around you in your “inner circle” that is the most potent.  This brings to mind the Judases and the Brutuses of the world–the “friends” and acquaintances with ulterior, sinister motives, lurking around us.  I don’t know if this was a direct message Van Sant was trying to send but clearly it is an issue in the film.

A few loose ends that weren’t rectified were the threats Harvey Milk got, especially at the big assembly.  One might guess Mr. White sent this one but the film provides no evidence to support that other than viewer presumption.  And no resolution to the earlier, little violent drawing either.  Perhaps this lends credence to my paragraph above about outside-inside threats and dangers.  Definitely doesn’t leave me feeling very good, and it reminds me of all of the school shootings, especially Columbine, where the culprits’ instability and problems were unchecked, overlooked, and completely ignored.  Mr. White, as portrayed in the film, had some clear issues, but Harvey Milk was too polite to dig too deep, or to care too much. 

So who are WE overlooking?

This film provides an interesting look at the life of a man who worked really hard for his community.  It’s infinitely sad that he was murdered.  I think this film is about showing his life and documenting part of the gay rights movement, but I also think this film is about the dangers lurking in our midst.  Eeek!

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