“The Milk Man” is the first film from the fledgling AC Production Company, co-founded by Andrew Rosin ’25 (director) and Chris Tun ’25 (who stars as a fictionalized version of himself, otherwise known as the Milk Man). The satirical mockumentary, in its 13 minute runtime, charts the rise and fall of Chris: a young, disillusioned, and alienated college student who, by some dealing of fate’s sublimely disinterested hand, is suddenly able to make the greatest milkshakes ever known to Amherst College. And to mankind, perhaps? Perhaps.
The stimulating force of Chris’ singular confection immediately provokes pleasure in Amherst’s student body. When Chris wanders into the basement of Val and returns with his first milkshake, the concoction is seized, gulped, and resoundingly acclaimed, as his friends each contort their faces into shapes of undeniable approval (what do you call it? It’s like the “Not Bad” Obama meme. The milkshake is so good that all of Chris’ friends become Obama).
Talking heads descend from the bronze-inlaid halls of high culture to pontificate on the significance of Chris’ achievement. Ellis Kloshausfer (Luke Herzog ’24), editor for the Amherst Student’s Arts and Living section, uses adjectives such as “sensuous,” “mysterious,” and “profound” to describe the milkshakes — which I assume means they’re good. Pioneer Valley food critic at-large Jim Stein (Miles Garcia ’25), whose gonzo self-styling is thrown into stark relief by a half-buttoned shirt and a pocket-protected banana, ranks Chris’ work alongside “The Starry Night” and the “Mona Lisa.” He claims as well that the milkshakes explode the meta-framework of objective aesthetic values in order to achieve a humanistic, wholly subjective Art. In other words, he makes a needlessly exaggerated and generic appeal to traditionalism that is rendered incoherent by an even more generic appeal to post-modern transvaluationism, all of which reflects the proud ignorance and poorly-veiled desperation-for-attention that are the hallmarks of all the greatest art critics in our time.
To make the understatement of the year: things were going pretty well for the Milk Man.
Yet alas, how the prodigal son must fall. As excitement around the milkshakes reaches a fever pitch, fans are no longer content with mystery: they demand to know how Chris makes his art. But Chris is unwilling to reveal his secrets, and so, unwilling to shoulder the burden of a perpetually frustrated desire, his acolytes abandon him. Chris’ divine gift, the hand by which he made his claim to human affections, is the same hand that drives those affections away. By the film’s end he stands, like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s character Wakefield, as “the outcast of the universe.”
So … is the movie good? I mean, it’s alright. 5/10, rounded up to 3/5 stars.
Okay, look. For me, the fundamental difference between a documentary and a mockumentary is that a documentary is about something, and a mockumentary pretends to be about something. “Borat” isn’t about a goofy Kazakh journalist mis-adventuring across the United States; it pretends to be about that, so it can serve as a sounding board for the unmitigated expressions of bigotry that lie just beneath the congenial surface of “the greatest country in the world.”
The satire of “Borat” places a false emphasis on an inner subject in order to more truthfully capture an outer reality. Conversely, “The Milk Man” places its focus on an outer reality — the milkshake zeitgeist — in order to reveal the true nature of its actual subject: Chris, the man behind the milk. And what does this film reveal? It reveals that Chris … is unknowable.
There’s a moment in the film when one of the talking heads remarks on Chris’ lonely, unremarkable past, and the only available high school photos of him are ones where Chris is in clown makeup (a mirror photo, a photo of him on a bench, and a photo of him on a bike). To what extent does Chris see himself as a symbol of societal malaise? Did Chris seize onto this clown iconography before “Joker” (2019) was released? Does Chris feel like “Joker” (2019) stole his identity? The film intimates many rich ironies to be explored here.
There’s another scene where Chris is smelling flowers and then eating them off a tree. I am unwilling to take this moment at face value. Why does he eat them? Perhaps he has childhood memories of ambling along the garden path with a little brother who imbibes the narcissuses and honey golds. Oh, how he used to laugh at his brother … until the day came when, chasing a dandelion onto the runway, his brother got run over by a plane. Now, even as it brings back the intense pain of that day, eating flowers is the only way Chris can be close to Andy. What a tragic dimension to reveal in a single image — an opportunity the film blithely tosses away.
Why does Chris refuse to reveal the secret of his milkshake? If it’s only because he’d be jealous of the attention another Milk Man might receive, why does he continue to keep the secret when everyone loses interest? Why is he so prideful?
There was some satisfaction to be found in the interview with Chris’ roommate, Alexander Pratt (Sterling Kee ’23), who confirms the totalizing scope (if not the source) of this pridefulness. Pratt says that the truth of Chris’ story has been lost in the sensation. Chris’ fans never abandoned him; their excitement, in the decline of novelty, simply mellowed. But Chris, addicted to the high of adulation, refused to accept a more moderate form of praise. The true tragedy is then in the Milk Man’s slow-but-sure rejection of the love he has wanted his entire life.
Yet the vitality of tragedy cannot be sustained without equal vitality in the subject. The film does not show any convincing portrayal of Chris’ anger, of his passion, or of anything essential to the life he lived through his milkshakes. And at the film’s end, when Chris disappears and leaves behind only one last milkshake for Andrew Rosin to ponder, I imagine Rosin’s thoughts are not unlike those of George Eliot; who, commenting upon the life of Silas Marner (the exiled and tireless Weaver of Raveloe), commiserated with his self-imposed solitude by acknowledging the pain that must have come with being pushed away by his community — and yet, with the same deep sympathy, noted as well how “every man’s work, pursued steadily, tends to become an end in itself, and so to bridge over the loveless chasms of his life.”
I imagine this to be the fate that awaits the Milk Man, and because of this, I have sympathy for him. But he is an apparition: translucent, milky. He does not remain.
Editor's Note, March 24, 2023: "The Milkman" has been accepted to the Five College Film Festival, which will take place in Stirn Auditorium on April 1st.