Bittersweet Perfection: Our Review of ‘Moonlight’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - October 27, 2016
Bittersweet Perfection: Our Review of ‘Moonlight’

There is a prevailing intangible element in Moonlight that proves staggeringly tender. The emotional maturity and intimacy of this powerful film from writer and director Barry Jenkins is on full display, even when our main character is being scolded and ignored by his mother, picked on my classmates, or driving alone at night on a desolate highway.

It’s a triptych of stories follows Chiron at three pivotal moments in his life: childhood, adolescence, adulthood. African American and growing up in a poor neighbourhood in a broken home with his mom, Chiron is reserved, big-eyed, and instantly sympathetic.

Our main character is indeed incredibly shy; while he doesn’t say too much, when he does, it’s important. Still, his expressions speak volumes. When wandering around after school, he is picked up by a concerned stranger named Juan (Mahershala Ali), and their connection is influential and warming. 

Yet, Chiron is hesitant, and rightly so. He has a fractured home life that finds him often on his own, while his mother (Naomie Harris) takes drugs and struggles to make money. Chiron is trying to learn about himself and his future from his surrounding, but the revelation that Juan deals drugs and his mother takes them is devastating.

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The more telling reason is that Chiron knows he’s different than others, and his internal desires make him a subject of ridicule. That he is African American only compounds his problems in this masterwork film that tackles the intersection of race, class, and gender. The power of Moonlight lies within its restraint and serenity – it knows when to be specific, and when to be open. Rarely has there been such a small and intimate drama where tension is so palpable in every scene, and that’s all due to our affection for Chiron. Even so, this is a rich and beautiful film.

Played progressively by three different actors (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes), Chiron’s growth is exponentially stunning and at times heartbreaking. He remains a shy, vulnerable person forced to keep people at a distance and protect himself, but the way he responds to these confines change. He lashes out only to be bullied again, he expresses his feelings only to retreat to anxiety. Every time he attempts to make a more meaningful connection, say with his best friend Kevin who weaves in and out of his life, his vulnerability is gut wrenching.

Deftly, Moonlight looks at bullying, poverty, drug use, racism, homophobia, and incarceration in America without ever leaving Chiron’s side, and without losing focus. At the same time, the film evokes Boyhood, though shorter in scope and length, but still playing against convention, detailing defining moments in life while breezing through time and showing growth without explicitly talking about it.

Moonlight though, with all its lush textures and mesmerizing visuals, is something much more important. Challenging the viewer to think critically about masculinity and blackness, as well as viewing a harsh life from the viewpoint of an innocent child and what effects that has in years to come, makes this a sensational piece of filmmaking and powerful societal commentary.

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Anthony is a lover of a good story in any form, on any subject. Tirelessly navigating filmdom, he is equal parts an unbridled idealist and stubborn curmudgeon, trying to strike a balance between head and heart when it comes to pop culture. He pens stories about television, music, the environment, lifestyles, and all things noteworthy and peculiar.