“I am 40 years old and I haven’t done a thing that I’m proud of.” So says Harvey Milk on the eve of his 40th birthday when he and his then-lover decided to move to San Francisco to start a new life together. It is a move inspired by a need to be able to get away from the ‘hate’ that is all too familiar even at present when we, as a society, have supposedly progressed.
Milk tells the story of one of America’s first openly gay public officials who embattled oppression and inspired thousands of gay men and women all across the US to recognize their value and self-worth. This is a story of a man who remained unfazed against all the moralist judgment flung by people who disguise bigotry as an act of God. It is a masterful presentation of a man and a movement – in a city where police brutality is described as an imposition of God’s laws and how one person who stood up for the rights of those that are like him risked his own life to get his message across.
What is interesting to note is that the movie is set in the 70’s and yet decades after the time when these events occurred, we are still fighting for the same rights that Harvey Milk fought his damnedest for. The religious groups still spew out the same lies and misinformation. And people, that we thought have accepted that gay people are in fact no different from any heterosexual person in the society, actually think that we cannot be afforded the same rights. At best, gay people are seen only as citizens whose lifestyles need to be tolerated. What’s worse, we see gay men and women who cannot live with themselves and live a lie in order to be accepted. All this in an effort to conform to the society and the churches that they belong to.
In what is probably the most Oscar-worthy of the best picture front runners so far, Milk features a powerful ensemble whose dedication to their roles is imminent by the effectiveness of each and every character. Sean Penn is flawless as Harvey Milk and Josh Brolin’s Dan White provides us a character worthy of introspection at our own tendencies for self-loathing.
Almost four decades ago, Milk realized that although being gay isn’t easy, mainstream acceptance will come not through hiding and assimilation but by being yourself – openly and unapologetically. This is the lesson that Milk was able to impart before he was murdered. It is not too late to apply this lesson to our own lives nor is it too late to break free from the shackles of the moralist norm.
If you are going to watch just one film this awards season, make Milk your choice because beyond the fact that it is a great film, it is an important film that is worth a slot in every movie collector’s drive.
Movie Rating: 5/5