Prepare for the Oscars with last year’s Best Picture winner: Moonlight!
Summary: The life of a young, Black, gay man growing up in Miami.
I’m annoyed with myself. I waited so long to actually sit down and watch Moonlight. Not because I was playing Hype Hate or anything- I just wanted to devote the right attention to watching it and sometimes it’s just hard to find the right time and mood for movies when you know they come with lots of emotions. Regardless of how long it might have taken me to watch this, I’m just glad I did. There are so many good things about this movie from the script to the story itself to the acting, just everything.
Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight’s foundation is the LGBT experience and Black masculinity. It tells the story of Chiron, a young Black boy who… feels different from his peers. He’s not sure why or how, he just knows he’s different. The adults around him know it too and his peers have no issues pointing it out to him. As he begins to piece together who he is, his life takes its ups and downs. The movies takes place in three stages of his life by his three different monikers- as a preteen (Little), 17 years old (Chiron), and then presumably ten years later (Black).
Made with just $1.5 million, Moonlight doesn’t have the production value or star power of, I don’t know, say I, Tonya or last year’s Lion. It doesn’t have a fancy, wordy script like an Aaron Sorkin movie would or even Three Billboards has this year, but there’s something really beautiful and peaceful within the words the characters speak. Even though the dialogue might be the bare minimum, Jenkins has a lot to say. The layers and context constantly change the value of the interactions. The script is appropriately sparse, as there are so many murky waters to navigate when one isn’t ready to come clean or is trying to figure out who will be on their side- more words or obvious terminology would have been entirely convoluted and Moonlight is too deeply invested in its realism for that. There’s just enough information so we can make the right inferences needed to complete the picture before us, which builds a quiet tention throughout the movie. As we become more and more immersed in Little’s and Chiron’s life, it becomes increasingly heartbreaking to see his spirit beaten. (Yes, I was crying within the first half hour or so.) By the third act, we see that talking isn’t so much a conversation to Black, but a chess game. I found Moonlight’s final moments to be one of the most heart-pounding viewing experiences I’ve ever had- and there’s absolutely no violence or blood or anything like that here. It’s the simple feeling of just wanting to see Black truly belong somewhere and to have found his place.
To go along with that, each of the three actors who play Chiron are fascinating to watch- while they each have an approach to the character, their behavior is strikingly similar to the previous actor. Specifically, Chiron and Black revert back into the same body language and facial expressions Little uses when uncomfortable. (It’s even more impressive considering Jenkins did not allow the actors to meet during production.) Generally speaking, the character evolves and regresses throughout the entire movie and it’s such a strong testament to his identity crisis. It’s so beautifully done- there’s really no other way to say it.
There’s also the character of Juan played by Mahershala Ali, who was awarded an Oscar and SAG for his efforts. I’ve seen a few arguments that his character isn’t really all that present. This is a valid argument on the surface, but who his character is isn’t as important as what his character means to Little and his brief appearance makes a lasting impact. I love that we don’t know much about Juan other than the pureness of his heart. We don’t need to know who he was outside of how Little looked up to him. He’s a wonderfully grey character and a real definition of how, despite terrible or previous actions, we hold certain people in high regards.
Generally, selfishly speaking, Moonlight gave me everything I love to see in films and left me feeling enlightened. I tend to love the films that leave an emotional impact on me. Not only did I see something well-executed in technique, but I learned something about its themes, characters, and content. There’s a lot to be said about empathy, humanity, and Others from movies such as Moonlight– we just have to be willing to listen.