“Moonlight” is a beautifully crafted character piece that explores the sexuality and identity as well as trauma and healing. I got a feeling this is going to make my Top 5 Films of 2016 as it hits all right notes and the only real issue I had with it is it could have ended a few times but kept on going.
The film was written and directed by Barry Jenkins and produced by Adele Romanski, Dede Garnder and Jeremy Kleiner. The story was also by Tarell Alvin McCraney.
The story involves Chiron (also called “Black”) and his growing up with abuse from his druggy mother and the bullies on the playground who think he’s gay. When Juan (Mahershala Ali) takes him under his wing he gets temporary peace until he learns that Juan is the drug lord who sells to his mom leaving him alone again in the world.
The Pros: The World – The world is the poor deep south (Florida and Georgia) and it is in it we see the lack of opportunities that lead to some becoming druggies or dealing in drugs. It is desolate and real and fits the world and characters and is the world of poverty here in the United States.
The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful with the only times where it was annoying was when there was shaky cam (thankfully this only happened once or twice). Besides that we get stark scenes that illustrate the isolation of so many of our characters.
The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful and full of deep and harsh string instruments that heighten the tension and illustrate the pain of the characters. Nicholas Britell really did a fantastic job.
The Characters – This is a character focused drama and is powerful at that. I cared about all the characters who got explored and I wanted to see what choices they’d make and how they’d change.
Juan – Ali once again plays a memorable complex character! This guy is one of my favorite actors at this point and I love how he is one of the first who tells Chiron it is okay to be gay and to be himself. He is a father figure until he is unable to accept the fact that he’s helping to destroy Chiron’s mom with his drugs and after we never see him again.
Teresa – Teresa is Juan’s girlfriend and one of the most supportive characters in the film. She is Chiron’s safe place and we see her doing all she can to make sure he has somewhere to call home.
Paula – Paula is Chiron’s druggy mother who thankfully gets out of it when they move as gets checked into rehab and tries to convince Chiron to stop the cycle as she apologizes for how abusive she was and how unloving she was, though she loves him now. She’s complicated and not a good person but she has a really powerful arc.
Kevin – Kevin is Chiron’s first and only love who he falls out of touch with after the bullies egg Kevin on to punch Chiron. For 10 years they don’t see one another and then we see that Kevin has a kid and got out of drugs and is a cook now. He shows Chiron there is another way and admits in his action he never stopped caring and loving Chiron….as Chiron finally finds peace with his lover.
Chiron – Chiron doesn’t speak for the beginning of the film and it isn’t until Juan and Teresa help him feel safe that he opens up and learns from them to care for his abusive mother and also to care for himself. His next arc is becoming hardened as after the bullies egg Kevin on to beat him up he puts the head bully in the hospital and becomes a rich drug lord like Juan. It isn’t until Kevin calls out of the blue that he realizes there is another way and admits to Kevin that he never let anyone else touch him and that he still loves him.
Peace in Self and the Quest for Healing – From Chiron’s mother seeking drugs, Chiron and Kevin finding each other, Juan finding Chiron…all of them are seeking healing and find it in relationship or in the case of Chiron’s mother escape. All of them at the end of the day just want peace because of how the world has hardened them.
How Trauma Changes People – Trauma hardens people, from Chiron’s mother getting into drugs to escape and bringing out her desperation on her son, to Juan’s inability to stop doing the drug trade and making money even as he is trying to help Chiron heal, from Kevin going to prison. Trauma hardens all these characters at different points. There is so much toxic masculinity are characters are dealing with where beating someone up makes others accept you and being soft and quiet is a death sentence. Thankfully at the end we see Chiron beginning to find a way out of that cycle of trauma and abuse.
The Cycles of Abuse – One of the things we witness in this is the cycle of abuse, Kevin goes to jail after the bullies force him to beat him best friend/lover Chiron and later he ends up in prison. After he gets out he finds that Chiron has changed as the abuse from his mother and the bullies has hardened him too and he hasn’t experienced love since their moment on the beach.
Okay: The Endings – I would have put this as a pro if they had just had the final scene at Kevin’s restaurant. There was no reason for Kevin to go home and to put them at risk given Kevin is married now. It extended the final scene of them finding peace with one another a bit too long and was the only thing that kept this film from being one of the perfect films this year.
This is a film well worth your time. If you want to see what life is for so many who have to live in the closet because others feel threatened by their sexuality…this film does a fantastic job exploring that. As a bisexual man I found it powerful and loved how each of the characters was more complicated than what they appeared to be. None of them were stereotypes, each had multiple dimensions and contradictions and it made their struggles all the more compelling as all of them were really just looking for peace or love from another.
Final Score: 9.8 / 10 Ending could have happened on a few occasions so that is the only reason it isn’t a 10/10.