Is this a story of a lifetime?
For the last couple of years my most anticipated movie of the year has ultimately become my favourite of the year, Birdman became my favourite of 2014 and one of my all time favourites. The Revenant became my favourite of 2015 as it was one of the most unique cinematic experiences I’d ever had. Moonlight serves as not just my favourite of 2016 (even though I saw it 2017), but also a piece of work that resonated with me on such a profound level, it’s something that rewards more self discovery for me the more I see or even think about it.
That’s not to say that I’m gay or anything but more to do with my identity as a whole, how we all have pieces of ourselves that we’re afraid to share with the rest of the world especially when we know it doesn’t harm anyone. While the story centres on Chiron, a young African American growing up on Miami, the story really uses Chiron as a representative of youths like him who are persecuted just of his sexual orientation.
From a tender age, Chiron (or as he’s given the name ‘Little’ by the other kids) doesn’t seem to confide in anyone. He’s between a rock and a harsh place. While he’s bullied at school, his mother is a crack addict and there’s obvious resentment between them. There’s no father around which seems to suggest that Chiron was born through pure accident. There’s a scene in particular that Naomie Harris’ Paula (Chiron’s mother) scolds at him, giving off the ‘I wish I never had you’ look.
Mahershala Ali’s Juan steps in for support all of sudden, just when Chiron is in despair after being chased by other kids. He’s a drug dealer, but whether or not Chiron is aware of that or not, he’s very tentative to accept Juan’s help. Juan has this shark smile about him that would make anyone uneasy around him. Instead he’s someone who too felt like an outsider, he stood out amongst his peers and is the voice of reason to young Chiron. In a sense it was like speaking to a younger version of himself that he never got as a kid. Eventually Chiron accepts Juan’s gesture of good will and Juan buys him something to eat and lets him stay over at his and his girlfriend Theresa’s place (Janelle Monae). Chiron is very much a mute up until this point, he sports a pout that makes him seem almost difficult to talk to, like he’s being deliberately uncooperative.
The more Juan opens up to Chiron, that same Chiron seems to be giving back. They’re telling each other things that they haven’t told anyone. Mahershala Ali’s role demonstrates that on the surface people are quick to be adamant about such a person just from the outlook, especially in the community they’re in. Janelle Monae and Ali explain in an interview with BlackTree TV that their characters represents the good in people despite their rough environments, drug dealers are human beings too and they’re not all bad.
Once we move into Act 2 of the narrative, we meet Chiron in his teens and it’s by this point that he accepts himself for who or what he is and he’s at his most insecure. He sports the same nervous dispositions as his younger self, he curls himself up at times as if to suggest his cold, like he’s been cast aside from the others, an outcast. One thing this film does justice too is how there isn’t anything obvious to suggest that Chiron’s gay. He appropriates his attitude according to those around him, which proves counter productive at times when he’s pushed into proving his masculinity. It’s these instances that shows the struggle in oneself into deciding who they are.
Usually in my reviews I touch on quite a bit the films aesthetics such as it’s writing, direction, performances, cinematography, score and so on; but the journey this film took me on was so rich in it’s examination of personal struggle that they’re not nearly as fascinating to critique. That’s not to say the craftsmanship isn’t top notch because it all is. Writer/Director Barry Jenkins sophomore effort is a devastating account of a person’s turmoil to come to terms with who they are and how that can deprive them of unearthing their hidden talents and what they can offer to the world. The performances are universally terrific, Ali, Harris, Andre Holland (who plays Chiron’s childhood friend Kevin) and the 3 actors who portray Chiron at different stages in his life all deserve awards contention. The 3 actors never met on set and while they don’t strictly look like each other, they all carry the same sensitivity in their eyes. Jenkin’s sought out for them to just emulate the character through the script, not off one another.
The films editing is perfect too, the conversations that take place have a steady balance of allowing the characters to project emotion just by the looks they exchange without making the scenes feel drawn out too much. There’s fascinating cinematography to behold too and the score and soundtrack is equally fantastic. Something to add here which I thought was quite refreshing was that I was the only person of colour in my theatre, there was quite a few elderly folks which just goes to show that this film isn’t striving for a particular audience. It’s power lies in it’s ability to connect people in a way to rid themselves of parts of themselves, that you should always be comfortable around those you choose to associate yourself with. While La La Land is proving the favourite in the Best Picture Oscar race because of it’s stance as a reminder to people to follow their dreams and it’s 1950’s Hollywood appeal, Moonlight is probably the more important, culturally speaking. It’s widespread acclaim is very much justified in it’s poetic storytelling of getting to consider what it is they want to do in life, what responsibility do you have for this world, being truly honest with yourself and all in all, who are you?
Rotten Tomatoes reads: Moonlight uses one man’s story to offer a remarkable and brilliantly crafted look at lives too rarely seen in cinema.
98% based on 219 reviews