“Milk”: Setting the Tone for Arnold’s Body of Work to Come

With gritty, reckless realism, Andrea Arnold’s first short film “Milk” paints a portrait of a woman’s physical and emotional response to having a miscarriage. The resulting aftermath may be uncommon and uncanny, but the emotional backing behind Hetty’s actions are richly supported.

Lynda Steadman as Hetty in “Milk”, 1998

Far too many planned pregnancies end in a miscarriage. It is a common, yet often undiscussed, experience that is often felt in shadow and shame. Socially and scientifically speaking, women were often blamed for this event — as if this was something they could willingly control, manipulate, or plan. Here, our protagonist Hetty; however, is not on a quest for her infamy, or to hide in her sorrows, either. Hetty heals in her own way.

In “Milk”, Arnold holds nothing back in showcasing an untraditional, but painfully accurate depiction of a woman in a firm state of “well fuck it.” You do everything right (luscious red duvet covers, candles, healthy, passionate love), then successfully conceive, carry for months… and still, something goes wrong. No matter how hard you try, and how hard you plan, life has a way of curving out of your control. So, Hetty does just that. She let’s it get out of control.

Lynda Steadman as Hetty in “Milk”, 1998

Hetty’s odyssey into the enthusiastically audacious begins when she asks a stranger for a cigarette, her first in months. She savors it, and then… savors the stranger. They go on a wild adventure together.

The resulting acts of sexual aggression are both shocking and justified. Hetty’s loneliness is apparent through her eagerness to converse and connect with a man she doesn’t know, nor needs to. The sharp, intense sexual acts that follow are not the result of passion or deep acquaintance between the two strangers, but a response to the compounding commotion that lies inside Hetty— an increasing friction that needs released. In addition to the weighty emotions that lie within her interior, there is a biological mass that dwells inside her as well — one that is dripping and draining from her breasts and staining her blouse. Milk.

Lynda Steadman as Hetty in “Milk”, 1998

Arnold’s confidence in revealing the everyday details of being a woman, and firm abandonment of the expectedly ‘femme’ way of responding to a miscarriage, is both exciting and necessary. While many films centered on female-issues are often A. non-existent, they are also B. shown through a veil of sweet, dainty, well mannered behaviors that are iconically ‘female.’ This short film rebukes all of that, driving its message and intentions with boldness.

Arnold has a beautiful way of making ‘wretched’, stereotypically unacceptable, stigmatized women humanized, understood, and relatable. This is why we make movies and, for many of us, this is why we watch them: to expand our sense of empathy and understanding for how others live and connect with each other. “Milk” hides nothing, and reveals a response most women are not bold enough to commit to.

Despite holding the longing and desire to rebel, express, and release the heavy emotions we carry as women, many of us often submit to the silence, suppression, and social politeness — never speaking our true thoughts and emotions. Staring at the barometer of men to measure our responses. And then the reason why is…. we don’t even realize we’re being ruled by a subterranean social code. A series of rules that live below us. However; Hetty is not ruled by those expectations, Hetty simply exists and responds to the world around her. As we all should.

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A fiercely femme retrospective survey of cinema for a new audience. Yeah, it’s good, but what’s the takeaway?

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Nina's Film Notes

Nina's Film Notes

A fiercely femme retrospective survey of cinema for a new audience. Yeah, it’s good, but what’s the takeaway?

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