A beautiful and poignant film which has a lot to say, by saying very little (on the surface).
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Moonlight is a 2016 drama film directed by Barry Jenkins, written by Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney and stars Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Janelle Monae, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali. The film chronicles three stages in the life of its lead character Chiron.
Moonlight struck me as a unique film from its first few minutes. I was taken aback by how laid back it was while handling subject matter which can easily be categorized as sensitive. I found myself thinking back to the time I watched the film “Precious”. This is not a ding on Precious so to speak, but I remembered finding the film to be extremely overbearing and pandering to a very low denominator. Moonlight has a much better overall feel to it because it chooses to take a route which inverts the one mentioned above.
Where most films about ghetto life are marred with random rap music, Moonlight uses violins. Where lesser films would choose to portray the ugliness and hopelessness of a certain locality and people, Moonlight chooses to find diamonds in the rough. Moonlight inverts every single cliche, stories have about colored or homosexual characters have and builds a complex and compelling narrative around one of the most relatable lead characters I’ve seen on film. Chiron’s struggles could be taken as literal or as metaphorical. I was deeply affected while watching the film because, even though I am neither black nor gay, I was bullied and felt alone for a good part of my childhood. My search for an identity was one of the most troublesome and rewarding journeys of my life. The film taps into those emotions most of us have felt at one point or the other and offers up a story that is just the right bit of open ended so that the viewing audience can fill the gaps up with their own vivid lives.
The film feels as if it is three endpoints of a triangle. The lines which connect those points and the area that those lines end up encapsulating are open for the audience to work with. Spoonfeeding is not the order of business here and one can quickly realize that aspect of the film as soon as one watches the life of Chiron. Simply speaking, the supporting cast around him all have specific/jarring characteristics while Chiron is the surrogate for the audience. The film offers a few moments of character motivation which move Chiron in a particular direction but in the grand scheme of things, knowing what we know about Chiron, these are the decisions almost all the folk who connect to Chiron would have made themselves.
What amazes me is that the bond I could form with Chiron was so deep and meaningful that I rarely noticed the excellent filmmaking and score at play. Barry Jenkins clearly knew what he wanted from this story and he goes all out to offer one of the most unique windows into the life of a character who has (seemingly) been dealt with over multiple iterations. A huge shout out to the score and the unmistakeable camerawork (which works with a shallow depth of field) which gives the film an identity of its own.
I want to make my knocks on the film quick as I don’t feel great doing it. But I can’t quite look over those errors. The supporting characters are my biggest gripe. Yes, they are expertly acted and realized but that does not stop them from being paper thin and one note. Neither Kevin, Juan or Paula amount upto anything memorable. And yeah. I’ll stop now.
Moonlight is a film I’ll keep going back to because of all those things I was raving about earlier. For being one of the most poetic displays of a young man’s story, I could just spend my time listening to it more than watching it. The inflections combined with the ebbs and flows in audio offer an experience not many other films can claim to give to its audience. It might not be five out of five perfect, but those chinks in its armor are what give the film the unparalleled sense of personality it has.
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