Contrary to what you might have been led to believe, Harvey Milk was not one of the most influential politicians who ever lived. He assumed public office in his late forties. He held that position less then a year before he was killed by a fellow politician. Truthfully, if you were to look at the biggest thing he accomplished, it would be that he got people to start picking up their pets droppings in public. Yes, the biggest law he helped get pasted involved poop. So if this was his greatest claim to fame why would Gus Van Sant make a biopic of this man, simply named "Milk." Well, it's easy: Because Harvey Milk was an unconventional man who lived an unconventional life. He was the first openly gay man elected to public office.
The fact that he was more politician then activist helped solidify his reputation. Milk (Sean Penn) came from a poor background and didn't run for public office until late into his life, when local hatred inspired him to change things. He ran a few times unsuccessfully, which cost him his personal life as well as his boyfriend, Scott (James Franco). When he was elected as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors you could hear the celebrated cries from gay men and women throughout the world: Someone who understood them and their problems was finally part of "the machine." So inspirational is this fact alone that a young gay teenager in a wheelchair even finds the strength to keep on living after contemplating suicide.
So while Milk's biggest claim to fame may be that he solved the poop problem, as you can see he is legend in San Francisco. This movie will help you understand why. Rather then give us a three-hour biopic though, Van Sant only briefly mentions Milk's past and only hints at the controversial events after his murder. This is a movie about Milk's political run, most noticbly his fight to defeat Proposition 6, a bill that, if passed, would discriminate against homosexuals and force them out of teaching positions at schools. Some people may make comparisons to the recent Proposition 8 at this point, but the reality is the laws are two very different things, with very different debates going on between them. Besides, even this topic isn't delved into too deeply.
The movie is mainly about relationships. Milk's relationships with men in his life. His relationship to the public. At the core of the movie is his relationship with Dan White (Josh Brolin), a conservative who often clashes with Milk on various subjects, and who would eventually become Milk's assassin. Their relationship is tense, with enough love/hate emotions going back and forth to make it all the more unsettling. Hopefully a sequel will be made so that the Dan White character can be analyzed some more. For now though, this will have to do. When I told my friends at church I saw this movie they were surprised. They wanted to know why I would go see a movie about people who were so obviously living in sin.
I told them that this was hypocritical. We all obviously live in sin. We don't try, we just do sometimes. And while the movie had one too many sex scenes for my personal comfort, the theme of giving people hope and inspiration is a story that has worked many times before. It worked in "The Ten Commandments," it worked in "Schindler's List," and it works here. Is it a perfect movie? No. It has too many little problems that add up to make it that. But it is one of the best films of the year, and it's certainly going to get people talking. Not so much about homosexuality, but about hope, love, and compassion. Ironically enough, even though most churches will boycott this movie, these are many of the key things Jesus himself preached.
What did you think of this review?