What do you think when you hear the word “moonlight?” The moon has long been a symbol of unearthly mystery and a source of moviemaking magic, and although Moonlight‘s subtle beauty is not as literal, it is just as present. The film is a much needed refresh button on the Hollywood scene.
Told brilliantly through a fly-on-the-wall perspective, Moonlight creates a topical framework with which we view the life of Chiron, a gay Black man growing up in Miami. First and foremost, the film focuses on the emotional and mental rather than the cultural and social, a a fine line masterfully walked by Director Barry Jenkins.
Broken into three acts, Moonlight begins with Chiron’s experience as a child when he is nicknamed “Little.” As a young boy, “Little” (Alex R. Hibbert) is constantly bullied by his peers and drug-addicted mother for reasons he can’t quite understand yet. In search of sanctuary, he meets Juan (Mahershala Ali), a man who gives Chiron a haven, someone to talk to and a parental figure sorely missing in his mother.
In one profound scene, Juan takes Chiron to the ocean, helps him float and says, “that right there, you in the middle of the world.” The beach, as it is in other films, is a symbol of self-actualization. Here, Jenkins lets its meaning lie, bringing actualization to thought and a pure realism to Moonlight.
The second act focuses on “Chiron,” and is possibly the most telling and reflective of the heart that lies beneath the man. Through this act, we watch as “Chiron” (Ashton Sanders) explores his sexuality with classmate Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), both excited but challenged by a hyper-masculine society.
The final act features Chiron as an adult man, “Black” (Trevante Rhodes). We find him ripped with muscles, gold plating his teeth and he is a drug lord. The masculinization has gone beyond outside pressures to an internal struggle, a point so skillfully portrayed that it need not be said at all.
The performances by Hibbert and Sanders are poignant and deep, but Rhodes has found the defining performance of his career thus far in Moonlight.
Having just swept the Gotham Awards, Moonlight has a bright future. (Hint: 2017 Academy Awards, anyone?)
1 hr. 51 mins.
Rated R for or some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout
Director: Barry Jenkins
Writers: Barry Jenkins, Tarell McCraney
Starring: Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Janelle Monae, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland