When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

06 December 2008

Seen Milk?

Carrie and I went on an actual date today: early showing of Milk, the hagiography of Harvey Milk starring Sean Penn, followed by a late lunch at Grand Sichuan 24th St.

We enjoyed the movie. Sean Penn's performance was insanely strong and if there's a performance in a movie this year more worthy of an Oscar I do hope you'll point me to it in the comments, because I want to go see it.

The script was good and had some nuance but maybe was not all it could have been.

Hagiographies shouldn't be written for people who weren't saints, and Milk wasn't, but he was (among other things and in rough chronological order) a Naval officer in the Korean War; a veteran of the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign; an actuarial statistician; a small business owner; a gay activist; and ultimately the first openly gay politician elected to significant public office in the United States. He was assassinated in 1978. [Biography of Harvey Milk on Wikipedia]

The movie doesn't tell his entire life story; we meet the man on his 40th birthday and stay with him for the next eight years, until his life meets its untimely end.

We get one brief vignette of Milk the corporation man, when he, on his birthday, wearing a suit and on his way home from work in Manhattan, picks up a young man on the steps of the IND train.

But for most of the movie, we get Harvey Milk the gay activist and politician.

Whatever strengths the movie might have, and they are many, they are dwarfed by how Sean Penn inhabits the role. He is the strongest aspect by far of a very strong movie.

Harvey Milk understood political theater and was also a very brave man, and the complex, powerful portrait that Sean Penn paints of a highly intelligent man who understands a few key truths about leadership is very very convincing.

We talked about the movie all the way to Grand Sichuan, where we enjoyed soup dumplings, dry-sauteed string beans with minced pork and spicy lamb with fresh ginger.

One of the things we were talking about: When the movie ended in 1978, the HIV virus was already circulating worldwide (it is now estimated to have entered the US around 1969):
The disease has an incubation period of several years, and with a small incidence, was not noticed at first. [Link]
AIDS was about three years from being noticed as an epidemiological phenomenon by the CDC.

And a sizable fraction of the young men we had just "met" in the movie would likely contract AIDS and die in the immediate future.

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