“At some point you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be, can’t let nobody make that decision for you.”
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the reception of Moonlight, one of 2016’s most critically acclaimed films, viewers saw the film as undeserving of winning the Best Picture at the Oscars over frontrunner La La Land, critics also saw it as a rip-off of Boyhood, with themes of race, homosexuality and drug abuse being shoehorned in, but Moonlight is so much more, Moonlight is an experience.
Like Boyhood, Moonlight tells the story of a young African American boy, Chiron, growing up in a lower-middle class society, having run-ins with bullying, drugs and an abusive mother as he struggles with his homosexuality. The film’s story is split into 3 parts, chronicling Chiron’s life as a boy, teen and adult. For each 3 parts, instead of having similar looking actors as most films would aim to have, Jenkins employed 3 physically distinct actors to play the character at different stages in his life to portray very dissimilar characters, but what I find interesting and even poetic is how despite each actor being so distinct from one another, they have that same essence, as Jenkins put it, “it’s all in the eyes” and it’s this very level of detail that sets Moonlight apart from other omnibus films.
The film also examines the idea of experience, showing us in immense details and through the most poetic and powerful situations what the main character goes through in the course of his life and how it affects him. The situations are both objective, like how Juan’s monologue on identity sets Chiron on the path in search of his, and subjective, as Chiron’s harmless wrestling with Kevin builds his homosexuality. The argument against the film that I constantly come across, is the man in the final act is not Chiron, and it seems so disjointed from the rest of the film, but I feel in some ways, that contributes to the nature of the film. Chiron’s adult persona is so different but yet so shaped by his experiences as a child and a teen that every single nuance and action taken by his character stems from some experience in his childhood, from Juan telling him not to face his back to the door, to his innate introverted nature. Watching a character grow so much and so distinctly and understanding every event in his life leading to that final character is truly poetic.
The cinematography of the film is also highly inventive and visually stunning, with Jenkins explicitly citing the works of Wong Kar-Wai as his biggest inspiration when crafting the visuals of the film. Instead of just simply copying the techniques at face value like what a lesser filmmaker would do, Jenkins reinvents such techniques, taking what they are at their core and improving on them, both in terms of aesthetics and the stories they tell, comparison videos found online would illustrate exactly what I mean, the shots are both similar and vastly different at the same time, because an artist steals what he sees but an auteur steals what he feels.
Moonlight is one of the most original and thought provoking pieces in cinema, telling an entire life’s worth of stories and experiences in just slightly under 2 hours. It speaks wonders for the human condition and shines a mirror at the audience, exposing our vulnerabilities, as the saying goes, “In Moonlight, black boys look blue”
Don’t miss this masterpiece of a film’s limited run in theatres.