The Movie Review: Moonlight
Rating: 3 and 1/2 Stars
Moonlight is a coming of age tale. A lot of great classic literature and film centers around the growth of a boy into a man. A tried and true formula that, when executed with mastery, leaves us with a memorable experience.
Moonlight is not like Stand by Me or The Outsiders, (neither story I really care for all that much) but rather has me more reminiscent of one of my favorite all-time movie, Requiem for a Dream.
Movies like Moonlight or Requiem are difficult to watch on the principle that you know there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Any gleaming glittering moment of hope is washed away by guilt, sorrow, anguish, regret, and oft more than anything the drug of addiction.
The big difference between Requiem and Moonlight is Requiem is more solely focused on addiction, whereas Moonlight has a lot of thematic elements outside of just a boy becoming a man.
Moonlight follows the evolution of Chiron from “Little” to “Chiron” to “Black”. The three acts representing youth, adolescence, and adulthood.
Chiron took on the nickname Little due to his small stature. He was picked on, beat up, and he didn’t stand up for himself. The friendly neighborhood drug dealer, Juan (played by Mahershala Ali), takes Little in. Friendly is frankly an understatement. Juan seems like the type of guy that would take a bullet for you. Not without fault though he’s on the fringe of being the guy that would put a bullet in you. Juan’s girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) is the only character presented without flaws, but her role is minimal.
Juan’s role in Chiron’s young life is paramount, and the case could be made Chiron is vicariously reliving Juan’s life. That would be the case I would make, but Moonlight basks itself in leaving a lot up to interpretation.
The relationship between Juan and Chiron is the most important takeaway from the first act, but the stage is also set for Chiron’s abrasive relationship with his addicted mother, and his friendship with a boy named Kevin.
The goal Juan, Teresa, and Kevin set forth for Chiron is to distinguish an identity. Chiron’s identity comes to fruition in some ways and never develops in others.
It is revealed in Chiron’s adolescence that Juan has passed away and only speculation can answer how. The big development in act two is the emergence of Chiron’s sexuality. Hinted briefly in two scenes of act one, Chiron and Kevin are all in for act two, which is despite Kevin in a previous scene explaining to Chiron how he got detention for having sex in the hallway.
This is the moment where I want to give credit to director and writer Barry Jenkins. Moonlight could’ve easily gotten lost in trying to overlap its narrative with the topical confines of race and sexuality. Never once did I feel like Moonlight was trying to make a statement on: life as a gay person or life as a lower class black kid. If you were questioning, is this what youthful gay love looks like, or is this an accurate representation of being black in America, you were missing the point of the film.
A kid at school constantly torments a passive Chiron. Chiron continues to back down and ultimately the bully gets Kevin to play a game of knock Chiron down until he can’t get back up again. Kevin shows some restraint but willfully submits to the ill wishes of the bully and his friends. Chiron is left in a bloody mess.
Chiron looks in the mirror at his battered and scarred face leading to his breaking point, where upon his return to school, he grabs a chair and breaks it over the bully’s head. Ultimately Chiron is sent to juvie and we careen onward to act three.
Chiron’s adulthood appears to frame him as a changed man. On the surface this is true. Chiron sports a grill and is built like a brickhouse. He’s a dealer in Atlanta. In reality, Chiron has not changed at all, and his prison-built identity is only a front.
Chiron gets a call from Kevin who wants to reconnect and catch up. Chiron first visits his mother and the two attempt to console one another. Chiron’s mother is in rehab, but she soon realizes it is too late for her estranged son who has now found himself going his own treacherous path.
The film ends on Chiron and Kevin’s reconnection. Kevin’s life had been uprooted by failure and impregnating a girl from school. Kevin recognizes Chiron’s new appearance, but remarks on how Chiron still can’t put more than three words together which made me audibly laugh. I was glad to find that I wasn’t the only one who noticed Chiron’s lack of conversation frustrating.
In the film’s final scene Chiron admits to Kevin that he’s in love with him, by lamenting that Kevin is the only one to touch Chiron in any meaningful way. I hate to be down on this moment, but it’s a very sappy true love moment that can only be found in Hollywood.
From the cinematography, to the script, to the incredible acting, in which every character made their movements and words feel like free verse poetry, I found Moonlight to be an impactful visual poem. Moonlight has shades of real people in real lives, but the plane on which Moonlight exists is too convenient and manufactured to be true.
My final takeaway from Moonlight is the question of how much affect the film has and what will it be remembered for? Despite the critical reception, the staying power isn’t overwhelming for me, but I can definitely understand where some may want to revisit this film decades later.