Film Review: Milk (2008)

Based on path-finder Harvey Milk’s life story, directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Sean Penn as character protagonist, Milk follows the uprising of Homosexuals in the public domain. Spearheaded by Harvey Milk, the Gay Rights Movement marks a chapter in the history of America wherein serious issues like democracy and freedom to lead the life as promised by it were brought to surface.


The film, like the story, introduces to us the flak and faults with which America greeted the concept of homosexuality. Harvey Milk is California’s first ‘open’ gay to be recognized in public office, who treads the path less trodden by gathering momentum in the sphere of gay rights activism in his career, and being the face of the same has some terrible prices to pay.


The ‘closet’ homosexual, Milk moves out of his house aged 40 and moves in with his lover Scott Smith (James Franco) in San Francisco. Both open a camera shop, Castro, which eventually becomes the “hang-out” for gays. Socially impassioned, Milk begins to chalk out his interest in bringing the gay community to justice and helping society acknowledge their existence. He moves into the political foray and expresses his agenda fervently, as a candidate beneficial to all of society, including the minorities. Repeated defeats in 1973 and 1975 don’t deter him from contesting yet again and he is elected to office in 1977 as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The local gay-rights ordinance passed in his favor met some obvious disapproval and disgust prominently by Anita Bryant and former supervisor, Dan White (Josh Brolin). Milk was subsequently assassinated by the latter, as was the Mayor, and the film reasons out the fact that White’s conservative ideologies and jealousy owing to the attention Milk was receiving might have not been the sole reasons for the murders. Milk himself suggests that White may in fact have been a homosexual himself, overcome by the horrors of rejection society promised for his kind.


The film scores baskets when it comes to direction which is of superb conception. Cutting through a span of 9 years- the film is essentially a chronicling of events, but also emphasizes on the underlying emotions and passions vested in a rather unrelieved and contained community. Milk’s own emotional graph is fabulously projected and his own tremendous contribution to the acting department of the film moves mountains for it. Be it the intimate and sexual context of the man or his determination to seek the light for his fellow mates, Sean Penn is deserving of the Oscar he has only recently been acknowledged with.


The frames essentially used in the film are characteristic of the time period the film wishes to portray. A neat job with the camera and some brilliant shots move you seamlessly from a private bedroom, to a “confessionary” Castro, to the polished political sphere and finally to the streets dotted with supporters and frenzy. The film is significantly a flashback of accounts given by a not–so- ignorant Milk, aware of his end to be brought around only by assassination. This is his episodic and autobiographical brief. A must watch for all- especially owing to the significance and portrayal of the trepidations this community faces and the incessant hope to redeem themselves of a society-borne label of ‘sin’.


Ankita Kanwar

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