Directed by Barry Jenkins
Moonlight is incredibly touching, ruminating on subjects that haven’t been explored in depth before – specifically, what it would be like for a young, gay black male to grow up in a masculine, African-American area in Florida. It does this without a hint of sappiness, and the chemistry between all actors is subtle but noticeable. Their interaction feels legitimate. It is a moving experience, but is it as incredible as almost everyone seems to think it is?
The fact that it delves into waters mostly unexplored certainly helps, which should be encouraged within film-making, but countless other film-makers are exploring unmapped territory too. It is also extremely heartfelt and honest – I don’t think I have seen a male cry this many times in a single movie before. This shows very clearly the struggle that Chiron is going through. This is a gay male, still struggling with his sexuality, stuck in what he sees as a hyper-masculine environment. All he wants is to fit in. Not only that, but Chiron was already confused as a child, having to essentially raise himself.
This simple wish of wanting to fit in has an obvious impact, as when we see Chiron being bullied at school, it hits home hard, regardless of race. His wish is simple, yet so difficult to attain. It is also universal; when growing up, almost all young people, in some way, want to fit in. They don’t want to be stuck on the outside, sitting by themselves during lunch-time.
Moonlight is much more concerned with its character(s) rather than a solid narrative; the film effortlessly depicts Chiron’s struggles for us to appreciate. It also succeeds in depicting how alienated and alone Chiron feels, using subtle techniques, such as the shot below, with every other student looking at a timid Chiron.
This approach though can be a double-edged sword, as it is disappointing to see an almost complete lack of action, especially during the second two acts. Nothing of consequence really happens, and the few things that do happen are achingly obvious before they begin. There are a few early exceptions, but once buckled in, the journey is a very predictable one.
Jenkins chooses to separate the film into three parts of Chiron’s life, played by three different actors of different ages, creating difficulty in connecting with the character of Chiron. We can connect with what he is dealing with, the obstacles he is forced to hurdle. But as a character in a movie, this connection is much more difficult. This problem is compounded by how restrained and subtle each actor is in portraying Chiron.
He is shy, obviously, but apart from confusion about his sexual orientation and an estranged relationship with his mother, we do not get to know this person. Again, we can connect with his pain as we follow his story, but not the character himself. The only real personality we meet throughout the entire film is Juan (Mahershala Ali). His character is layered and faces difficult choices.
A pity then, as he is only in the first act of the film, which is by far the film’s strongest point. Unfortunately, beyond Juan, there are no other memorable characters to be found, and the film gradually loses momentum as the minutes tick past.
Moonlight is well executed, and depicts the struggles someone like Chiron experiences in a unique yet realistic fashion. But, one can’t help but think this could have been so much better with a main character who is memorable. A character that possesses a personality. Sure, Chiron is a confused person, but that shouldn’t mean that he is essentially a blank slate who struggles to say a complete sentence. This is not a bad film, far from it: it is very cleverly shot, the colours are incredible, and it deals with delicate subject matter with deft touch. But what truly makes this film stick out from the pack?
Two short of a sixer.