Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighbourhood of Miami. This is a timeless story of human self-discovery and connection.
Director Barry Jenkins takes us into the world of young Chiron and details three formative chapters of his life. His early childhood, where he recognises the addiction problems of his mother and seeks refuge with a local drug dealer. Adolescence, where he comes to terms with his sexuality and finally, his adult life where he wrestles with who he has become as a result of his experiences.
This is quite simply a stunning piece of film making that deserves all the praise and plaudits it has and (hopefully) will receive.
Every performance is thoughtful, considerate and speaks deeply to what happens when we are persecuted for our difference. When we within our bubble (whatever form that takes) step outside our determined boundaries it can cause friction, conflict and separation. Chiron faces these battles throughout the film, at one point endures a playground beating from his friend and only confidant who chooses acceptance from peers rather than standing up for his friend.
The film also highlights the unexpected quarters from which we can find support. In the first chapter entitled ‘Little’ a young Chiron is chased by a group of boys maliciously hurling insults like ‘queer’ and ‘faggot’ as he flees. Chiron takes refuge in an old apartment/ crack den and encounters local dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) who takes him in, gives food, shelter and a listening ear.
This support which is lacking from other sources, proves a vital influence on Chiron and he appears time and again at Juan’s door seeking shelter despite his drug dealing. Ali’s performance is incredible as he recognises the need to support this young man at his door and becomes a pseudo father figure. He coaches Chiron in many ways, teaching him to swim, talking to him about sexuality and being honest about some difficult truths about Chiron’s home circumstances.
Credit must also be given to Naomie Harris and Janaelle Monáe who portray the two faces of motherhood that Chiron experiences. I can’t stress highly enough that both of these women deserve high praise and awards for these stirring performances.
Monáe, as Theresa, comes alongside Chiron to unlock the character of a young man who is in the process of shutting down and shutting out the world around him. If Monáe gives him the mother he deserves, Harris provides the other side of the coin. She is drug addicted, broken and wrestling with her own demons. When she clings to Chiron, demanding money from her teenage son to get her fix, everything in me repelled at the injustice of this. Chiron deserves better and Juan and Theresa provide this.
The final section of the story, which looks at Chiron’s adult life, was less appealing as he seeks out an unrequited love from adolescence. This final movement just felt a little slower than the previous chapters and didn’t grab my attention in the same manner. However, this is still a vital and important way to round out this story.
It is also important to say that this is a film with a beautiful visual style. Jenkinson has carefully selected his shots and lighting also particularly plays a role especially in moments of dusk, when day becomes night and vice versa this is where the magic of moonlight both physical and cinematic come into play. Close up shots of characters, linger long on their eyes and the viewer gets as clear a gateway to the souls of these individuals as I can remember seeing on screen.
Moonlight is beautiful, moving and contains a trifecta of impactful episodes from the life of a young, gay black man that will leave a deep profound indent on your soul. In these times where tolerance is lacking Moonlight is a great cinematic tool for challenging perceptions and prejudices.
Moonlight is released in UK cinemas on 17th February 2017.