Directed by Barry Jenkins
I chose to wait a few days after seeing this movie before I wrote my review. I knew it would take time for me to formulate my thoughts on a movie as layered as this. It isn’t shy about tackling race, sexuality, and drug abuse head on. Heady subjects that I, admittedly, have little experience with beyond cinema. While Moonlight certainly addresses these issues it isn’t necessarily about them either. Yes they play a role but ultimately the movie is about a young man's difficult journey from childhood to adulthood.
Before I get into the meat and potatoes I wanted to mention a few distinct things that stuck with me about the movie after these last couple days. First of which being Mahershala Ali. His performance was gripping. The man is having a breakout year. His character of Juan only appears for a third of the film but his presence is felt for the entire run time. Look no further than his final scene in act one to know what I mean. Secondly, the idea that this is a movie about being gay. I honestly don't think it’s that cut and dry. Chiron is a complicated character who is clearly sexually confused but I don't think the movie is trying to tell you one way or the other who he is. Chiron doesn't even know who he is. The film is about going through that exploration with him, without casting judgement, while his culture pushes him towards social norms. By the end of the movie he’s had very few sexual encounters in his life and is clearly still searching to understand himself. You can't help but feel for him.
The film itself is broken into three distinct sections: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. With three different actors playing the lead role of Chiron. From the child actor onward they were able to exquisitely capture the subtleties of the role. The three actors were able to convey the timidness and confusion of Chiron, even when he was supposed to be “hard” later in life. Even though Alex R. Hibbert played him as a child, by the time Trevante Rhodes took over as an adult you immediately understood them to be the same person. Credit to all three of them, including Ashton Sanders, whom I had yet to mention, for achieving that.
The movie is scored by Nicholas Britell and is overtly classical. Something that may feel disjointed at times but seems intentionally used to juxtapose the visuals. It’s is also used beautifully in a swimming scene that stands out as one of the most beautiful scenes in the film. The other side of that coin is of course the visuals. There are shots in this movie that are absolutely gorgeous. The film starts with a camera technique that would be reused to great effect several times as the camera slowly circles the characters before eventually coming to rest. Most of the movie uses very tight and static shots that get right into the actors faces. It’s almost uncomfortable in how close it gets you to some of the characters, and I couldn't help but to appreciate the craftsmanship of the cinematographer James Laxton. A name I wasn’t familiar with until I learned he had DP’d Kevin Smith’s Tusk and Yoga Hosers. Smith has spoken nothing but praise for him and now I totally understand why.
Unfortunately, the film wasn’t able to completely grab me emotionally. Maybe it’s my cold heart or maybe it’s my difficulty relating to a life so drastically different than my own. It may also be that I found it hard to get behind a character who wasn't always behind himself. Regardless, it got me thinking. I left the movie pondering the reality of what it meant to wear a mask to fit into our society and how much of a role our parents, for good or bad, play into our lives. Existential questions, among others, that don’t necessarily have an answer but are none the less worth considering.
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