Look, the story is sound, Sean Penn is fantastic, Emile Hirsch, the writing, the pacing, Danny Elfman, Gus Van Sant... but my guess is that you already know all that if you're looking at this. Rather than extol the technical merits of Milk, let me talk about my Dad.
My Dad winced a lot while watching Milk. He's 60, smart guy, been a fire-breathing California Liberal his whole life and he winced every time a man kissed another during Milk.So he did a lot of wincing.
Walking out, we were talking about the unending bigotry surrounding gay rights and he said that although he's for complete equality and was overwhelmed by the humanity of particularly Sean Penn's performance, he finds it hard to watch a man kissing another with sexual intent. I responded "Well yeah, Brokeback was tough to watch. That was really about the act of gay sex, this was different. Milk is about gay life, culture, the sex was secondary." He smiled and said "But you were born after Milk had been murdered. Your generation views sexuality in a fundamentally different way then previous generations." "Anyways, what do you give it?" "I give it a 9.5, would have been a 10 but I just didn't like watching some of the sex stuff."
The supposed "point" of Brechtian films like the ones Van Sant has become (in)famous for (Milk amongst them) is for the audience to leave in such a way as they are forced to answer questions about social orders and ostensibly themselves.
And I didn't find myself asking about "How could prop 8 pass" as I have a firm grasp on the unspeakable political power of the Evangelical movement. I didn't find myself asking "How could the Twinkie Defense ever have flown?" I found myself asking
"Why is male homosexuality so hard for so many people to watch?"
It is the art that leaves you with a question that is truly great. And truly, Milk is great.
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