Moonlight is one of those films that you will probably only watch once, but that’s okay because it’s one of those rare films that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
Told across three acts Moonlight chronicles the early life of a gay black man growing up in Miami, Florida. We first meet Chiron as a boy, being chased into an abandoned housing block by school bullies. It’s here that he encounters local drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) who attempts to help Chiron out and return him home. Nearly mute and very withdrawn it soon becomes apparent that Chiron is having a tough time between his drug addicted mother (Naomie Harris) at home and bullies at school. Juan and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) become adoptive mentors to Chiron to help him try and understand why the other kids treat him so differently.
Moonlight deftly presents the confusion felt by Chiron as he struggles throughout the three acts to understand why he’s different and how to fit in and accept his sexuality. Following him from boyhood, to his teenage years and then culminating in young adulthood, Moonlight is at its heart a love story told with unashamed honesty.
There are going to be a lot of people who hate this film, and a lot of people who will love it. It’s not a casual watch, and many will likely find it boring and predictable, the tale of a kid growing up dealing with bullies and a self destructive mother is nothing new, but if you understand what it’s trying to tell you Moonlight delivers a pure and poignant portrayal of love. The love between two men, the love between a mother and son and the love between friends is all presented as love really is: difficult, inconvenient and painful but also beautiful, enduring and ultimately stronger than hate.
“I think it’s important people see
themselves in film, but it’s even
more important they see people
they maybe don’t know as well.”
– Barry Jenkins, Director
Moonlight offers a more accessible way to tell an unconventional love story than most indie films, but there are still artsy hints here and there in the way the film is crafted. The three acts are each separated by a black screen with simple white text, camera cuts are short and sharp, the score is simple and subtle and scenes are long and talky.
Though viewers would probably struggle if the film was longer, the film can feel a little incomplete as it only offers these three short windows into Chiron’s life and there are whole sections missing between the acts where significant events happen that are only referred to briefly in conversation. Also, Chiron undergoes a significant transformation for the third act as he becomes almost unrecognisable from the Chiron of the second act, which whilst that may make sense from a narrative perspective, it does come across as a tad jarring for the audience. But all that being said, the performances here are all very strong with a standout (if brief) turn by Naomie Harris who, with the greatest respect, makes for a fantastic crack addict.
Moonlight carries an important message for everyone and is definitely a film we need in our current social climate, it may not deliver a storyline with many surprises but the brutal honesty and tangible emotion with which it tells its story lends Moonlight an enormous amount of heart and gives way to some truly beautiful cinematic moments.
So don’t watch this film because it won an Oscar. Don’t watch this film because it’s about a gay black man and will make you feel more liberal and cultured than you are. Watch this film because it will remind you that no matter who you are or who or what you love, be true to yourself and love with all your heart.