Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Moonlight

Moonlight (2016; dir. Barry Jenkins) is difficult to categorize. It opens up to the casual viewer an unfamiliar world: the world in which a gay African-American young man must live. The film is divided into three sections, with each section focused on one period of the main character Chiron’s life. It shows us a young man whose mother is a drug addict, whose father is absent, and who doesn't understand why he feels a certain way. He's profoundly lonely throughout most of the film. The first section shows him as a boy around nine years old who is befriended by an older African-American man. It's not clear at first why this man is interested in him or what he does. One could say he's interested because he recognizes a lonely child who needs help. One could say that he might be the boy’s absent father come home to reconnect. The mother and the man have difficult words together, as if they were once close. They certainly talk like people who were once married. It was only my impression that the man was the boy's father. Others who were watching the film with me had a different impression—no reviewer whom I’ve read made this assumption either, so I am probably wrong. When the boy asks the man if he's a drug peddler, and he shamefully admits that he is, their relationship ends (as far as I could tell). The second section shows us Chiron at the age of around 16. Once again, he's isolated and lonely. He is bullied by other boys in his high school who call him names. Only one boy, Kevin, seems interested in being his friend. It's with this boy that he has his first sexual experience. A few days later, one of the school bullies forces Kevin to beat Chiron up.

In the third section Chiron is 26. He's been working out, he's all pumped up, he wears a gold chain around his neck and sells drugs. He gets a phone call from Kevin, whom he has not seen or talked to in 10 years. Kevin now lives in Florida and Chiron drives there to meet him.  The film ends with a moving but uneasy and uncertain reconnection between Chiron and Kevin, who showed him affection in high school 10 years before, but who also beat him up.

The film is depressing. It's supposed to be. Such is the nature of the boy’s life at every age of his existence, from when he was nine with a drug addicted mother to when he was 16 and bullied to when he is 26 and lonely and selling drugs. Every element of this movie coheres almost seamlessly to give us a portrait of this man's life—music, cinematography, editing, screenplay (written by director Jenkins), direction. The acting is excellent, even though most of the people who appear in the film are relative unknowns. The actors who play Chiron at the three stages of his life are all wonderful actors. I would say this especially of Trevante Rhodes, who portrays Chiron as an adult. He says very little. The film shows us his face and his eyes and we can tell without being told how lonely and unconnected he is.

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