Lactose Intolerance

February 3, 2009 at 6:47 pm (Uncategorized)

Harvey Milk collapses on a sofa, exhausted, and tells his campaign manager he’s going to stop running for office, because he just doesn’t have it in him anymore. I understand how Milk felt. This is the year I myself have announced I will not be seeking re-election to my town’s council after six years of service. Somehow Milk found the strength to keep going. That alone, to me, was mind-boggling and right there enough for me to respect the man.

Friends told me to bring Kleenex with me to see Milk. They were not wrong, but, I did not get verklempt at the times when the audience is clearly supposed to be. Instead, I found myself teary-eyed at a point where Harvey Milk and his staff are certain they’ve lost their battle against Proposition 6, a law with unprecedented unfairness and discrimination against gay individuals (gay teachers and anyone who supported them would be immediately fired, causing a government witch hunt as to who is or is not gay). The phone rings, and Milk learns that Prop 6 has been defeated. This for me was the most poignant scene in Milk, because it’s what should have happened earlier this year when Proposition 8 (barring gay marriages in CA and nullifying those which already exist) passed. That’s when I cried.

Sean Penn is absolutely mesmerizing and sincere. My Litmus Test with Penn is always, does merely yell to get his point across, or does he dial it down a little. Mostly, he yells, and it annoys me. Not so in this role, where his emotional range is palpable. I believe in my heart of hearts that he and Mickey Rourke have given equally compelling performances this year in their Oscar-nominated roles, but that this year…the year we celebrate Harvey Milk through our outrage that intolerance is alive and well in Milk’s state 30 years later…Penn will take the Oscar not just as a testament to his wonderful job here, but, as an acknowledgment that discrimination in any form is wrong, and must be fought by large groups of people (say…Academy voters…) willing to stand up and say, “that’s enough.”

Here in Pittsburgh, PA, I don’t get many glimpses into actual Hollywood.  My LA-living brother-in-law winces whenever my kids ask him “what famous people he’s seen” since they last talked. My husband’s friend from college has a brother who left HBO’s “True Blood” to do the costumes for Milk, and he was nominated for both the Costumers’ Guild Award and his first Oscar this year. I truly wish Danny Glicker well. Even knowing him peripherally, seeing the comments on his FaceBook page, indicates that Milk is a film which touched everyone who worked on it in a deeply personal way. Certainly, in a year when HOPE was the central theme of a groundbreaking presidential election, parts of Harvey Milk’s legacy remain, and his life still speaks profoundly to gay and straight people alike.

Milk is a special film, and certainly one of the best this year.  It does more than share one man’s extraordinary journey. It opens discussions about fairness in American society and encourages all of us to have the courage of our convictions.  It helps us examine whether we embrace our differences, and drink in more Milk, or whether we manifest lactose intolerance and judge others.


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