Dec 25, 2008

Film: Milk (2008)

I was a little skeptical about a mainstream Hollywood movie about Harvey Milk, even though I have a lot of respect for Sean Penn's choices. After seeing the film a few days ago, I'm happy to say that my hesitation, though well-founded, was not justified in the end. Sean Penn really does throw himself into the role, and just in terms of great acting, it's a performance to watch.

But more importantly, I think the film gives you a real flavor for a particular character in American politics and social movements, not as a perfect or unmatchable soul, but as a full person. I liked that a lot - doing some sort of movement work for longer than a minute, there were a lot of moments when we thought "hey, we know people or situations that are similar or that this reminds us of." I checked out the documentary about his life and assassination a while ago. Rent that for a historical perspective when you get a chance.

Geo/Pro Brown from Blue Scholars said it best in his review here: "What makes Milk so much more than just another historical bio-pic or a generic plea for humanity is an awareness - by filmmaker, writer and actor - that the personal is political. That leaders are created by movements and not the other way around, as most other movies suggest." Here, you get a sense of the people around Milk too, that colorful cast of characters who are committed to more than just their own self-aggrandizement, or even just the cult of personality around that central figure.

Amen to that, and as far as mainstream movies go, this one is worth seeing before it gets kicked out of the theaters by the usual drivel that comes around during the holidays and beyond. Though I have to say, it's because of the holidays that I am actually catching up on some films finally. Look forward to a little writing about "Slumdog Millionaire" next, and have a peaceful week, ya'll. 2009 is rising!

1 comment:

Rage said...


One thing that the film definitely brought up for me though, was the fine line between believing in something and thinking that you have the answers and the strategy, and burning through people who may not agree or may be in a different place from you.

Harvey Milk, at a certain point, thought that the most important thing for the gay rights movement was for everyone to get out of the closet. He made it abundantly clear when he brought together the people who supported him and believed in him, and he even put one of his staunch supporters on the spot to call his parents and let them know.

It was an awkward, difficult moment, and I'm really glad that one of the characters who was close to Harvey called him on it. Though I can't ever claim that I understand what it's like to have to make the decision to be out for folks who are gay/lesbian/trans-identified, I think that there are times when our belief in ideals or ideas get in the way of understanding how a strong personality can force people to do things they aren't comfortable with -- or more accurately, overcome their own will and self-determination by sheer force.

As a strong personality myself (not sure if I can make anyone do anything, but if you're insistent enough and charming enough, you have to know that possibility is there), it was a sobering reminder that if I want to be true to the ideal of self-empowerment and self-determination of people, over even some feeling that I know the "best way" or "best strategy" to get somewhere.

The film actually showed some of the nuance of that, as Harvey went from being a community activist to an astute politician, and suggested that some of his approaches also brought some of the tragedy in his life.