Milk (2008)

Rated: R for language, some sexual content and brief violence.
Length: 128 minutes
Grade: DFFD=D
Budget: $20 million
Box Office: $64 million (32 U.S., 22 Intl., 10 DVD)

Written by: Dustin Lance Black (He wrote 15 episodes of Big Love, tellingly)
Directed by: Gus Van Sant (Finding Forrester, Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho)
Starring: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, James Franco, and Victor Garber.

A gay man moves to San Francisco and founds the notorious Castro District, eventually running for and then becoming the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States, who eventually fights an anti-gay statewide initiative before being murdered.

Entertainment Value: D
I watched this movie for two reasons: it was nominated for 8 Academy Awards (including best picture), winning two, and it seemed like a culturally significant film. After having avoided seeing Brokeback Mountain for moral reasons, I can only say that I should have done the same thing here. I found this thoroughly unentertaining, uninspiring, and quite frankly very disappointing. In fact, my wife and I both had roughly the same reaction: we felt a bit polluted afterwards.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity F, Violence C, Language F, Illegality D
First of all, let me say I am absolutely stunned that the MPAA would use the word “some” to modify “sexual content” in rating this movie. Unless by “some” what they really mean is “anything that doesn’t deserve an X rating,” I’m confused. There was no actual nudity here, but the sexuality alone merits an R rating, and it was continuous throughout the movie. Yes, of course, the fact that it’s gay sexuality makes it more offensive. If there had been this degree of sexuality in a movie about any other sort of perversion, it would be incomprehensible that the MPAA would have considered it just “some” incest or polygamy. So, no, this is not a mild R movie. Of course, the language is also continuous, and there are numerous favorable drug references. Also, there is a murder, a suicide, and talk of mob misbehavior.

Significant Content: F
Gays are normal, and should be fully included in American society. Traditional sexual ethics are ignorant and destructive, and people who believe in them are intolerant bigots. If you fight for what you believe in, you can give hope to thousands of other people.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
Here’s the thing I just can’t fathom. This is supposed to be an inspiring story of a man fighting for justice against a repressive and unenlightened society. But the movie opens by showing two gay men meeting in a subway and kissing each other about one minute afterward and immediately going back to an apartment for sex. I literally can’t even comprehend that sort of interaction happening between a man and a woman, and here it seems to be portrayed as basically pretty normal. And that’s the point. Homosexuality is male sex aggressiveness gone berserk and allowed to indulge itself without any restraint. Because of this honest portrayal and all the bizarre forms of dress and behavior it showed gays regularly demonstrating, I felt so alienated from what this movie was trying to do to my emotions that I literally felt nothing at the end when Harvey Milk was shot. I had no empathy for the characters whatsoever. And given Harvey’s aggressive use of power politics, I actually sympathized more with his opponents. It’s fascinating that he wasn’t assassinated by some homophobic stranger but by one of the few people who knew him quite well. For those who would compare this man with Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. speaks volumes about the inverted and distorted sensibilities of the gay movement.

Discussion Questions:
~Do you think that the reaction people will have to this movie is already set by their viewpoint about homosexuality and gay rights? Do you imagine anyone would be persuaded to become more gay friendly by it? To become more anti-gay by it?
~Do you think that openly gay men and women should be allowed to teach schoolchildren? Would you have voted for or against Proposition 6? What about adulterers? What about people who use or make pornography? Promiscuous people?
~Milk at one point says that gays don’t have the right to privacy because their privacy is enabling anti-gay sentiment to continue. What do you think of this and of his idea that if people aren’t willing to come out of the closet, they should be outed involuntarily?
~Did this movie portray gay life as you had imagined it or differently than you imagined it? Do you feel it was an honest portrayal? Did this portrayal make you more sympathetic to the gay movement, less sympathetic, or have no effect?
~What differences do you perceive between homosexuality and heterosexuality?
~Have you ever been close to anyone who was gay? What impact does/did this have on your views in this area? Does personal relationship make us less willing to oppose problematic behaviors?
~In your opinion, is there any correlation between the heavy profanity, drug use, and sexual immorality of the characters in this movie? How is self-control a theme here?
~Do you like Harvey Milk in this movie? Would you want him as a friend? If you had the chance to interact with Milk, how would you deal with him as a Christian?
~What is your reaction to Anita Bryant in this movie? Does her depiction make you cringe or make you happy? Would you say that moral conservatives and/or Christians have made much progress in presenting our viewpoint in the intervening 30 years?
~What do you think of the tactics Milk used to control businesses in his district? Why did the Teamsters want to work with him?
~Samoa is the only country in the world which officially banned Milk (they had also banned DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons). Samoa is very conservative and Christian. What do you think of this action by the Samoan government? Would you want to live in Samoa? How much would it cost to move there? (Just wondering out loud.)

Overall Grade: D
I would discourage you from watching this. Also, just for the record, I have had several gay friends in my life, I was raised in a very pro-gay household, and I even took a seminar in gay theory from Richard Mohr, one of the foremost gay thinkers in the United States, when I was in graduate school.

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