I feel like I’ve lost a year somewhere along the way. After reviewing If Beale Street Could Talk last week I decided it was a good excuse to revisit Moonlight. In my head it was only last year that Barry Jenkins and his team went through the trauma of hearing the wrong film named Best Picture. Turns out 2018 happened at some point and that momentous occasion was 2 years ago. It’s weird because I loved so many films from last year that I don’t know why I can’t remember them. I guess it’s probably just old age and an awful reminder that I’m no longer the 16-year-old I continue to believe that I am. Really, I need to stop watching films like Moonlight and Boyhood because it is impossible not to feel all introspective. And we know that that’s a dodgy road to walk down. So, let’s get onto the reason we’re here. I never review Moonlight on this blog when it came out so it seems as though the time was right to rectify that.
Moonlight brings together three chapters in the life of young man growing up in Miami. Each of these is titled with the name he is known by at the time. The first, “Little”, shows his childhood where he experiences bullying from his schoolmates, deals with a drug addict mother, and befriends a local drug dealer, Juan, and his girlfriend. The second, “Chiron”, takes us through his hormonal adolescence as he comes to terms with his sexuality and his attraction to his friend. The final section, “Black”, reveals the choices he has made in his adult life as he follows in Juan’s footsteps. Though this film is only about 2 hours long, we get a deep insight into the life of one man. It is full of the harsh realities he faces but, at the same time, shows us the lovely little moments that impact our lives. This is a film concerned with the inherent beauty that can be found within the life of one person.
Which is quite the task considering how much trauma that Chiron goes through during his life. With scene depicting bullying, violence, drug taking, and the abuse his mother doles out, this is a film that shows you how tough life can be for some people. The narrative on-screen is, at times, horrible to watch but Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton make sure it’s all done with breathtaking visuals. It’s fitting, given the title, that the film has a gentle glow about it. This isn’t like the kind of film we’d normally see set around the world of drug dealers and violence. There is no hard-hitting, documentary style storytelling. It’s all very opulent and smooth. It’s also extremely intimate as the camera takes us right into the lives of these people. We are seeing the true heart of these lives and the beauty that people miss because of the gritty exterior.
Perfect considering the central character doesn’t really belong in that setting. Struggling with his sexual identity from an early age, Chiron is bullied by his classmates throughout his life. He doesn’t fit in with their idea of what makes a man and he becomes an easy target. The film was adapted from Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue and draws inspiration from Jenkins’ own life. This is an important story about what it feels like to be an outsider. About someone who has grown up without a traditional support system and has to find role-models and love from unlikely places. It shows us a boy who realises, at a young age, that good things don’t stick around for long and shows how this information can affect your entire life. Chiron hides who he really is because every time he finds happiness, or at least self-awareness, he is left beaten down.
Moonlight is a very affecting story and the kind that stays with you. As I said in my review of If Beale Street Could Talk, it is a story that feels timeless. It is relevant to so many people and in so many different times. With such apparent ease, Jenkins manages to make his film both intensely personal and universal. It is full of mesmerising performances and powerful story-telling. It is tragic and will leave you feeling empty for most of the time but it’s difficult not to fall in love with this film.