An aspect of film I always like to pay attention to is the production design. I love combing out the little details of what makes a set, costume, or object significant to the film in it’s entirety. Production design has the capacity to tell stories within stories – it can explain history, predict the future, tie together characters, and exemplify themes or motifs. So, it is wonderful to find an essay that pays attention to such such a bizarre yet common thing like milk.
For one thing, milk is a symbol of childhood. It is associated with nourishment, helplessness, and innocence. This video looks at how films can develop an unsettling tone by contrasting this understanding with settings or images that are counter to this interpretation. For example, it draws upon Mad Max: Fury Road as an example. Mad Max depicts a society that is anything but childish, warm, or innocent – water is so scare that women are exploited for their breast milk as a source of hydration and nourishment. This movie addresses the consumption of milk as a sign of strength, but in a way that is counterintuitive to what generally feels comfortable to a wide spread audience. Breast milk is already such a taboo topic, to show it off on screen as something that is simultaneously exploited and beneficial evokes a reaction of disgust, which is exactly what the movie is aiming to do.
Likewise, it is equally unsettling to see milk associated with characters who are violent, unpredictable, and even just simply adult. This essay pulls images from both A Clockwork Orange and No Country for Old Men as examples. The adolescents in A Clockwork Orange drink milk, which calls attention to their youth and reminds us even further of how upsetting their violence is. Similarly in No Country for Old Men, Javier Bardem’s character, a psychopath murderer, also has milk as his drink of choice.
By calling upon these examples, Now You See It‘s video gives us a strong array of examples as to how milk as a symbol can inspire an emotional reaction in it’s audience. Like other aspects of production design, milk has a powerful impact on meaning, but something about it feels all the more personal. I will certainly begin to pay more attention to it’s appearance in other films.