Film Review: Moonlight

Tuesday 4 April 2017 by

Moonlight, Barry Jenkins, Mahershala Ali, Alex R. Hibbert, Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harris

To be honest, I’m hoping most of you will have already seen Moonlight by now. However, I will try to avoid spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet… One of the most anticipated films of 2016, and scooping up a huge number of awards, this film, directed by Barry Jenkins, is based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.

Moonlight is the story of one man’s struggle with his identity and sexuality. Told in triptych, we meet Chiron at childhood, adolescence and adulthood, and see three defining chapters of his life. The film explores the narratives of sexuality and masculinity within the black community that he grows up in. It pushes the boundaries of what is expected and forms a new series of questions that draws the viewer in to a nuanced and artful performance.

There is a reason this film won so many awards. Visually stunning, this often is at stark contrast with the tough subject matter, battling beauty with the brutal and distressing. Barry Jenkins has directed a somewhat disarmingly personal film, but with a bitter edge to it that becomes this heartbreaking coming-of-age story for Chiron. This portrait of a black gay man in Miami not only unnerves you but challenges you. “Who is you?” Mahershala Ali’s character Juan asks “Little” (a young Chiron, played by Alex R. Hibbert) – and this film is ultimately that question asked over and over again until it has peeled back the layers of whatever it is you thought it was about, and exposes the truth of the question beneath.

This film is lyrical and soulful, the story of pain told with grace and beauty. It unravels expectations and yet re-builds them just in time for a triumphant open-ended finale. It seems fitting, somehow, that things are left un-resolved. This is not a neat Hollywood plot where the guy wins the day and everyone strolls off in to the sunset with a tidy ending. This is visceral and poetic, furious and hopeful all at once.

Moonlight is sensitive and genre-defying – a true coming-of-age story. Little is a fragile and confused child who seeks comfort with Juan, whilst an adolescent Chiron deals with his own rage and frustration as he tries to care for his drug-addicted mother (played by Naomie Harris). But it is Black (Trevante Rhodes), the grown-up Chiron, that finally gets his answers, even if they aren’t quite what you expect from the beginning. For me, however, it is Little that makes Moonlight the triumph that it is. He is a young boy trying to contend with adult ideas, and his vulnerability is heart-stoppingly sad to watch. The relationship between Little and Juan is beautiful, because it shows Little that he can be accepted, whilst finding a father-figure in someone who perhaps is not the most obvious role model. This becomes the heart of the film – Chiron’s anchor as he starts to explore his own sexuality, which is often so pitted against the idea of masculinity that he has been taught. The idea that he was accepted once becomes a powerful talisman for him, and that plays out throughout his life.

This film will haunt you. There is soaring beauty and brutal sadness, but it is mesmerising no matter what, and well worth every second.

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