These elements serve to drive the point home: this story actually happened. The film’s plot line should sound familiar to anyone acquainted even briefly with politics over the last two years: a man sees something he wants to change, organizes a community around his cause, and makes it into government. Along the way he galvanizes youth, gets death threats, and angers established politicians. He even gives a stirring speech about hope, and fights against an anti-gay proposition.

Is Milk, Van Sant asks, the gay Barack Obama for 1978? The parallels are undeniable, but I would argue that’s not the film’s main argument, and Van Sant wasn’t trying to make it, necessarily, as easy and accessible of a parallel.

Rather, this is the story of a man who manages to actually make a difference for real people – a wheelchair-bound, nameless young gay man, calls Harvey twice in the movie: once to say his parents are going to send him to a sexual reeducation center and again to say he is still alive because of Milk.

Milk is killed for his activism, which is the central point, and tragedy, of the film. He used the system to effect change. ‚ He comes off as a canny politician, but not a dirty one. He knows how to play the game, and this knowledge, with Milk’s charisma, is what so frustrated Dan White, the conservative Supervisor representing the area just north of The Castro, Calif.

Milk also comes off, and not in a bad way, a bit like a savior. The nameless caller illustrates Milk’s rise to power and the effect he has on the world. In another instance, he’s in bed with his lover, who confesses to being beaten. “Nobody will ever hurt you again,” Milk tells him.

In “Milk,” there is no riot, no groundswell. The last image of the film is one that moves, members of a community holding candles in remembrance of their murdered leader. Van Sant asks with these images‚ for hope. “And you, and you, and you, have got to give them hope,” as Milk said.

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About The Author

Steven H. Bagley is a Blast correspondent

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