Corny as it is, Van Sant's ending still packs a wallop. Milk is so immediate that it's impossible to separate the movie's moment from this one. The 1978 victory over Prop. 6 merges with the current struggle against California's Proposition 8, overturning the State Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage. A charismatic leader has yet to emerge, but there is . . . Milk, and its wholehearted devotion to the principle of equal protection under the law. (Sound bites from the filmed demonstrations are near-identical to those culled from those held two weekends ago.)

Van Sant and Black position Milk as both gutsy civil rights leader and creative community organizer—not to mention a precedent-shattering politician who, it's very often reiterated, presented himself as a Messenger of Hope. And also Change: "A homosexual with power, that's scary," Milk jokes by way of alerting the viewer that he not only anticipated but understood his assassin's motives. Milk is now. The ecstatic reception accorded Wall-E's visionary tikkun (and the president-elect's strategic non-support for same-sex marriage) notwithstanding, it's the first openly Obama-iste movie.

James Franco and Sean Penn portray a couple of guys who just wanted to open a camera shop.
Phil Bray
James Franco and Sean Penn portray a couple of guys who just wanted to open a camera shop.

Here's hoping that Milk and Penn's Milk do as well in our annual fake election. When The Times of Harvey Milk won its Oscar for best documentary, presenter Kathleen Turner described it as "a film about American values in conflict." This time, the Academy won't have to be as discreet.

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