Moonlight

 photo moonlight_ver2_zps1ikgsjbr.jpg photo starrating-5stars.jpgComing-of-age tales are so often fraught with cliches that the very label is almost a disservice to films saddled with the description. The common details that unite one coming-of-age story with another are a bit ambiguous. They often concern a central figure who begins as a youth and reaches adulthood by the end. In that sense, Moonlight would appear to be another one of these sagas. Yet what Moonlight does is so dazzling in its construction that it becomes a revelation of truth. In presenting this memoir, legitimate drama is extracted from deceptively simple components that coalesce into a singular vision. This stunningly complex dissection of a life lived is breathtaking.

At the most basic level, this account is a character study about a man named Chiron (pronounced shy-RONE). We follow him through a triptych in which the lead is portrayed by three unique actors in his biography. In the first segment, Chiron is an 11-year-old, played by Alex Hibbert. He’s nicknamed “Little” because of his shy and meek nature. Bullied by the local kids, he is a somber individual affected by a challenging urban environment. He does not receive comfort from his emotionally cold mother (Naomie Harris in all three sections of the chronicle). However, he is befriended by a neighborhood crack dealer (Mahershala Ali in a charismatic performance) who nurtures the boy. Additionally, Little also relies on his friendship with best friend Kevin (Jaden Piner). In part two Chiron is now realized by actor Ashton Sanders. We follow Chiron as a teenager in high school. His close friendship with Kevin still persists. Yet everything in his life has become intensified and more complicated. This episode culminates in a life altering event. The final segment has Chiron now as an adult (played by Trevante Rhodes). Chiron currently goes by “Black”, a nickname Kevin gave to him when they were teens. His current situation is presented as it is now and we see how things have influenced his development.

Barry Jenkins is a thoughtful director. His debut was Medicine for Melancholy, a well-received, low-budget independent feature released way back in 2008. It has taken a whopping eight years for his follow-up feature. The wait has been worth it. Moonlight is his masterpiece. Like the protagonist of Moonlight, Jenkins also grew up poor in the Miami housing projects of Liberty City. It’s a region Jenkins knows well, but his adapted screenplay is actually based on someone else’s experience from the same area. In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue is an unpublished play by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Although neither writer knew the other in their childhood, the two actually grew up just a few blocks from each other. Β As any child who has ever been bullied knows, there is a pecking order on the playground. Children detect what they perceive as weakness in their peers. They often seize on these qualities and exploit them in various ways that can undermine a child’s life. Sensitivity is considered being “soft” and that is a most undesirable quality as determined by young male peers.

Director Barry Jenkins takes his time constructing a narrative, slowly giving details that subtly pop up later in his story. It’s a visual tableau utilizing color and contrast to create a distinct aesthetic for each of the three chapters. In this way, Jenkins imbues his rough, urban landscape with a gorgeous poetic sheen. The atmosphere has an increasingly dreamlike state. It’s a leisurely paced drama where silence speaks volumes. It’s a meditative reflection where moody rhythms percolate beneath the protagonist’s circumstances. Jenkins touches on poverty, race, gender, sexuality, masculinity and identity. None of this is overt, but rather develops organically as it would when fulfilling one’s own life. Jenkins inspires many questions: Who are we as a person? Are we the product of our environment? Can we rise above these obstacles? How do these events shape us into the adult we become? There are many more. Some appear to have answers. Others are open to interpretation. Chiron’s experiences will touch each viewer in different ways that will encourage reflection for days afterward. His struggle may not be yours. However, it still involves the combustible components that are part of every human endeavor. In this way, Jenkins imparts a movie that speaks for all humanity.

10-28-16

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15 Responses to “Moonlight”

  1. Nice work sir. Jeez there’s been some great press for this. It has been on my Must See list for sometime, probably since I heard my friend raving about it since he went to Sundance for a second year running. Now I’m thinking I need to drive to the nearest theater playing it, even if that’s hours away! I’m so impatient.

  2. I haven’t be able to stop thinking about the film. Certain lines of dialogue…what was spoken and not spoken…certain hues of light…certain facial expressions from the cast…the use of Mozart…some many thoughtful, beautiful, meaningful things. It’s interesting you claim this is Jenkin’s masterpiece. I wouldn’t argue against its mastery of the cinematic form (and its obliteration of genre cliches)…but the depth Jenkins shows here gives me hope that this is only the beginning of a long fruitful career with masterpieces yet to come.

    https://theschleicherspin.com/2016/11/05/who-did-you-expect-in-moonlight/

  3. It wasn’t my fav. film though many really seem to like it. I just felt like I’ve seen this story so many times before, minus of course the one thing that I don’t want to say to spoil it for anyone. But hey..that was done long ago and much better I think, on The Wire.. And I felt it to be very documentary-style done. Maybe I would have like it better then.. But it will probably score some type of award noms as truly, there isn’t much else out there.. though I’ve seen a few good ones this past week that I’m trying to finish my reviews on.. πŸ˜€

  4. This movie will hopefully be seen by a lot of people. It will be nominated for best picture. I obviously loved it. Such a different outlook on various subject matters. Very deep. 5 stars

  5. Moonlight definitely avoids the usual coming of age cliches. That’s what makes it so special. I agree that it’s a breathtaking, complex dissection of a life lived. I like how Jenkins takes his time with the narrative and how he uses color and contrast to create the distinct aesthetic for each chapter, as you mention. You’re right that he gives urban landscapes a poetic sheen and he touches on a variety of topics without hitting you over the head with them. I thought that all three chapters came together seamlessly and that was really impressive to me, considering it could be such clumsy construction in the hands of a less talented director.

    • With 8 Oscar nominations, it seems to have struck a chord with the Academy. Possible wins? Best Adapted Screenplay should be a sure thing at this point. Mahershala Ali is pretty certain for Best Supporting Actor as well.

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