Moonlight is a Masterpiece.
Moonlight, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, follows the semi-autobiographical life of Jenkins via the character Chiron, a poor, fatherless, black child, as he grows into an adolescent and then develops into a man.
While the setting is dynamic and the plot moves quickly, in every phase of life, Chiron is there, observing and experiencing how men interact with each other. Chiron doesn’t have a daddy in his life, and so he watches to learn what he can. So while we watch Chiron navigate his life in three sections, the constant theme, throughout the film, is an exploration of manhood; how it’s defined, what it looks like, when it is helpful, when does it get in the way of intimacy.
The first section is entitled “Little.” Chiron, who is called “Little” during this time period, is not served well by this nickname. Alex R. Hibbert, who plays “Little” renders his childlike manners in such a way that the audience is rooting for him from the very beginning.
Living in a housing project with his single mother (Naomie Harris), an intriguing father-figure, Juan (Mahershala Ali), enters “Little’s” life in this first section. Juan does teach “Little” lessons on how to be a man and gives him needed respite when his mother is too lost in the drugs. But there is a dark side to Juan’s money-making because he’s making money off of addicts like “Little’s” mom. The tragic nature of this situation is not lost on Juan or “Little.”
The second section is entitled “Chiron.” Time has passed and Chiron is a scrawny high-schooler. He has a friend or two, but it becomes clear that the tough guys have labeled him as gay, even though Chiron never states this, nor had he acted on it. This second section is most clearly a story about manhood. Bullying and tenderness are interwoven together in this second part. And so, unfortunately, is betrayal.
I heard an interview with the main character (Naomie Harris) and she said that usually she stays in character during the production process, but that out of compassion for those who had grown up with family addiction, she didn’t do that in this film. The folks working on the set were processing too much. I believe her.
In the final section Chiron used the nickname “Black.” Chiron is now a man making his way in the world. A surprise phone call creates an opportunity to bring closure to two events that happened earlier in the film. Love, heartbreak, forgiveness, vulnerability – they find their way here at the end.
Finally, it is not just the plot and the acting that invigorate this movie. The colors of this movie, the Miami and Caribbean blues, greens, and apricots enliven the visual experiences. Different camera angles keep the viewer alert for new perspectives. There is a soundtrack playing as well: some songs very familiar and some unexpected, and yet all are delightful.
So many good discussions can come out of this movie, there are so many aspects to it! What are the other big topics in this movie that you noticed? What do you want to talk about?
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Featuring: Mahershala Ali – Juan, Naomie Harris – Julia, Janelle Monae – Teresa, Shariff Earp – Chiron (high school), Alex R. Hibbert – Chiron (as Little), Trevante Rhodes – Chiron (as a grown man)
Rated: R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout
Run Time: 1 hour 51 minutes