Guest Reviewer: Cassidy Edwards
(Moonlight-2016-Drama-Director: Barry Jenkins-Cast: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali)
This film is cut from a different cloth, it is unique. Moonlight is the road less traveled.
This is a coming-of-age film told in three chapters about a boy named Chiron who lives in a poor area of south Florida – Liberty City. The story brings you into Chiron’s world at three different critical times in his life. Childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Early on, Chiron befriends a local drug dealer played by Mahaershala Ali who becomes an important strong male figure filling the void of an absent father. The first glimpses of Chiron’s mother, played by Naomie Harris, is a hardworking woman trying to provide for her only child – but you quickly learn that her demons with addiction send her into a fast downward spiral. You witness the struggles that Chiron encounters within each phase of life as he is searching for his own identity and how to express himself. Within each chapter, Chiron finds love in an obscure place which plays a part in his evolution throughout the film.
During the first chapter, I was drawn into the immense sadness and pain in Chiron’s eyes. The stifling feeling of solitude and loneliness penetrates each scene and grips you. It holds you so tight that you dissolve into the characters and carry their burdens. Instead of telling you in so many words about Chiron’s struggle to accept who he was, Moonlight showed you. Chiron was constantly bullied and called derogatory names associated with his sexuality. He felt he was different, but did not know how to express himself or where to begin in a barbarous environment. Liberty City was a place full of poverty which created a hardened exterior for most boys growing up there. As a teenager, Chiron became a target and had to balance dealing with high school and his crack-addicted mother. The awkward longing for love radiated and grew during this transitional time.
His one friend, Kevin, is a constant in all three chapters, giving you a front seat to their intimate moments. There was so much more than sexual intimacy. It was a deeper connection that pushed the limits of what was expected. An emotional intimacy that was told in a cinematically beautiful manner.
When the school bullies decide to push Chiron to his limits, things don’t go as planned. This segues into the final chapter. In adulthood, Chiron (nicknamed “Black”) is a polar opposite exuding masculinity. He yells “I’m here and I’m a man!” without speaking a word. Physically, he is very muscular, talks more aggressively with a gold grill in his mouth, and rides in a flashy old school car on rims. In this final chapter, Chiron is able to come to terms with who he is and confront his broken relationships from the past.
Moonlight was AMAZING. It was the epitome of visual storytelling. Director Barry Jenkins adapted the story from an unproduced screenplay “In Moonlight Black Boys look Blue” by Tarell McCraney, who also grew up in Liberty City. It is not your average ghetto tale of poverty. This story examines the painful journey of a gay, black male and how defining moments mold his character and alter his trajectory. Moonlight is ART. While there is not much dialogue, the beautiful cinematography and contrasting colors added depth. The gritty urban decay of Florida was gorgeously contrasted with blue skies and vibrant colors. The beach scenes at night were beautiful, illuminating Chiron’s dark skin. The visuals were poetic. The camera angles, the subtle motions – they all tell an amazing story filled with raw emotion. The camera had a way of highlighting characters and focusing on their body language and gentle movements that help extenuate the soft intimacy. Moonlight has many layers of real issues: Identity, Homosexuality, Intimacy, Love, and Fatherhood.
The score was phenomenal. The classical music exaggerated the feel of the scenes. I really enjoyed how in the third chapter, the music shifted and took a harder tone. In one scene, Chiron was listening to one of my favorites “Classic Man” by Jidenna. Very fitting for his image. It had a southern flare, being that it was chopped and screwed (a down south technique for slowing down music birthed in Houston).
The acting was sensational. Each character gave 100% of themselves to play each role authentically. Chiron was played by three different actors for each chapter and exuded a melancholy feeling of loneliness within each parallel. Each character carried an element of sadness on their back. The tension of their emotional struggle surrounded them.
Moonlight was an overall experience of pain, not a movie to be placed in a stereotype or category box. The obstacles are universal and define many of us as people. Finding love, finding ourselves, finding HOPE. I want audiences to understand this artistic film and not compare it to anything. If I had it my way, this would definitely be a top contender in the Oscars run. Moonlight can be seen as an answer to the controversial #OscarsSoWhite movement. Take a look for yourself.