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Moonlight Review

Updated on March 14, 2017
Chiron in the three stages of his life (Youth, Adolescence, Adult).
Chiron in the three stages of his life (Youth, Adolescence, Adult).

Introduction

"You'll know when you know. But you don't have to know right now. Not yet."

Moonlight is an American drama directed by Barry Jenkins and written by Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney. The film stars Alex Hibbert (Child Chiron), Ashton Sanders (Teen Chiron), and Trevante Rhodes (Adult Chiron). Other noteworthy mentions include Janelle Monáe (Teresa), Mahershala Ali (Juan), and Andrè Holland as Adult Kevin. The film tells the life story of Chiron in three chapters. The chapters are separated into his youth, adolescence, and adulthood. And gives the narrative its structure. The events of a previous chapter affect the other and so on. The movie explores Chiron's journey as he grapples with his own sexuality and identity.

I. little

Chiron as a child
Chiron as a child | Source

The beginning of Chiron's story starts with him as a child in the ghetto. In Liberty City, young Chiron is known by the name little. His mother is a crack addict and he roams the streets alone. He has one friend—Kevin who stands by his side. Nonetheless, Chiron is tormented and called all types of horrible gay slurs by other children. Later, he runs into Juan who invites him to stay at his place from time to time. Him and his girlfriend Teresa, take care of him while his mother succumbs to her vices.

Well edited by McMillion and Sanders, this part of the story shows Chiron confront his own sexuality. When he plays makeshift soccer ball with the boys, the camera cuts to the contact between them. When him and Kevin wrestle, the camera closely follows their bodies as they roll around. Shots of Chiron's face as he compares penises with the other boys in the bathroom is very telling.

The importance of this particular part of Chiron's story however is not lost on me. Youth is the most pivotal moment of a person's life. Our experiences as children shape us into the person we're going to become. The film does a good job of showing how much a positive role model Juan is in his life. And along with Teresa, they show him what a proper home feels like. What's more is, Juan is a drug dealer. Chiron's pretend family unit is cut short when the reality of the situation dawns on Chiron. Juan feeds his mom's crack addiction. This is where little's eye open and he's a child no more.

II. Chiron

Chiron as a adolescent.
Chiron as a adolescent. | Source

Despite the unpleasant ending of the last chapter, in this intermediate point of Chiron's life we see the positive effect that Teresa and Juan has had on him. His home is still unstable and his mom is fully in the clutches of her addiction. The scene where she takes the money Teresa gave him is heart wrenching. However, due to this chapter we see Teresa has taught him respect and pride. She reminds him to keep his head up—always. Janáe's performance is very friendly and real. I wish she and Ali could have stuck around the film longer. In any case, Chiron struggles as his school life challenges his self esteem and sanity.

This part of Chiron's narrative focuses on his struggle with his identity and being "hard" in the eyes of his peers. His seclusion and indifferent behavior makes him a target for bullies. High school is a den for hate and intolerance for people. Peer pressure runs rampant as well and at times control kids' actions. At this part of his life, Chiron's self esteem is still low. He has no confidence and allows people to walk over him. He internally houses all the hate and eventually breaks down. This is where the page turns again and he begins his journey into a man.

Chiron once again confronts his sexuality in this chapter of his life. He and Kevin engage in sexual activity and are initially confused. Such an important scene is done well with sensitivity and seriousness. The close-ups help the viewers feel the moment. Many black men in the LGBT community will relate to this scene. And the film is all the better for it.

III. Black

Adult Chiron
Adult Chiron | Source

In the last chapter of Chiron's story, we see the accumulation of all his life experiences. The emotional abuse of his childhood coupled with the physical abuse of his adolescence has turned him cold. He's more confident and aggressive. He is a man by circumstance and not by choice. His mother—now in rehab—gives him the love and care that he craved as a child. But, it's too late. He's not a child; he's a man.

Now, Chiron's narrative is solely focused on the person he has chosen to be. The feel of the movie is different. It is more urban, "hard." He's now embraced his old moniker—Black. In a way, he has given up. Fortunately, he runs into Kevin again and meets up with him. The film now focuses on mending a broken friendship. Black, now puts down his walls for his old friend. He can be himself while they reminiscence. It is great that the director shows that its okay to be a man and be vulnerable. The vulnerability is a breath of fresh air.

Closing

Moonlight told the story of a black man in the LGBT community with dignity and poise. The motion picture provide a tragic but yet uplifting message to anyone in Chiron's situation. The dialogue of the film does not stray away from its use of the "n" word in its accurate portrayal of urban slang. The music in the film also reflects his transformation. As a child, it's more orchestral. When he grows into a teenager it becomes more urban and so on. Surprisingly, the film does not harp on race. Instead, it presents the problem or situation as is. And hope for the young black boys and men out there. The film's POV shots adds a level of intimacy to the film. Either if the moment is sad, happy, or angry. These shots wonderfully allow us to be in Chiron's shoes—if even for a moment.The film is heartbreaking but comforting in the same boat. The film takes a sensitive topic for most and turns it into a film for everyone.

Moonlight is on Blu-ray/DVD, Amazon Video, and ITunes.

5 stars for Moonlight

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