Saturday, February 28, 2009


"My name is Harvey Milk and I want to recruit you". Milk, nation's first openly gay elected official to a major office, often used that as his opening line in public speeches. But he intends no pun there, he wants to recruit people into the politics of democracy.

The movie traces the life of an insurance salesman who moved across the nation from New York to San Francisco, only to be in the right place and right time to rise up to the occasion. Sometimes that is all it takes for a Tsunami to build up and unleash. Be it a Rosa Parks not vacating her seat or that defiance by a wiry advocate on a South African train near Pietermaritzburg.

Milk may be many things: funny, charming, politically shrewd but he is also inherently kind, as portrayed by Sean Penn. Both Mr.Penn and the director Gus Van Sant take up the cause of equality of men not just with rebellion spirit but with a mounting sense of righteous anger. They gradually build up such empathy and an inner sense of 'Can you believe they are being denied their basic civil rights?" very effectively through Milk's speeches and debates. The director uses an activist point of view for his camera, i.e. for all of Milk's speeches, the camera tries to unsteadily peer through at Milk amidst other listening heads of the audience.

Milk understood the politics of democracy and tried to used them effectively to advance his cause - equality of men (in the great sense of phrase as used in the declaration of independence.) He was willing to loose battles and trade votes on the city council to win the war. He made his state and city the battlegrounds by brining home the battles from other states and cities.

The greatest strategy he uses is, not surprisingly, empathy which leads to an interesting tension between privacy and political power. If you want political power, reveal who you are. Make your friends and family know that you are not an alien entity, not sick and cannot be fixed up by psychiatric voodoo. This coming out of the closet, Milk believes, leads to acceptance in a bottom up fashion and eventually making your voices heard. The movie avoids potentially painful scenes of coming out of closet before parents, may be not to undermine the power and potency of the strategy or may be assumes audience awareness of the pain and thus leaves it to the imagination making it even more powerful.

The movie benefits from a very moving and engaging soundtrack by Danny Elfman and of course a host of very effective cast. Some of the scenes have been re-enatced on the streets of San Francisco by people who had been personally affected by these historical events, most notably a candle-light vigil which is very moving. His name is Harvey Milk and he is very effective in recruiting audience to his cause. But not so much with members of academy who were unfairly candied away by Slumdog Millionaire.

Highly Recommended.

- Written by Kesava Mallela

1 comment:

Tom White said...

Can't really agree with you about "Milk". Tho Harvey Milk's story is a moving one, and he did much to advance the cause of gay acceptance, I was not impressed with the film, nor Penn's portrayal.