In peach-lit Miami, Moonlight shows three stages in the life of black-American Chiron. In young adolescence he finds a surrogate father figure in Juan (played by Mahershala Ali). He has abusive slurs thrown at him (including by his mother) without even knowing that they are homophobic. Juan is instrumental in the development of Chiron’s character, whose sense of self is formed by the people around him even down to his name. Nothing is really his own, and he is an outsider from the beginning, unable to claim his own narrative. Juan allows Chiron’s character to momentarily achieve total centredness. In the sea scene used for much of the films promotion, Juan says to Chiron while holding him, “you’re in the middle of the world”. In a slightly later scene, in Juan and Teresa’s (Janelle Monae) house, Juan tells him not to sit with his back to the door. He puts him at the head of the table, saying “now you can see everything”. Here, Chiron starts to get a glimpse of owning his own narrative; of becoming a complete, valid, deserving person instead of living on the periphery of the narratives of the people around him.
Chiron’s place at the table is a running idea throughout the film. Food as love is articulated beautifully throughout, and the food preparation scene towards the end of the film, without wanting to give spoilers, is one of the most intimate, tender moments of any film I’ve seen in years. It’s heart-wrenching. The sea, too, in it’s rolling awesome blueness, is emblematic of the sheer depth of human emotion. Chiron tells Kevin that he cries so much he feels like he could “turn into drops”.
Moonlight is the kind of film that makes you feel whole. It’s relentlessly, un-apologetically beautiful. Alex Hibbert and Mahershala Ali give amazing performances among a faultless cast. Naomie Harris was allowed just three days off promoting Spectre to give her performance as the main character’s drug addicted mother, which is astounding as she manages to play a character whose role in the film spans over twenty years. Harris has said that she usually avoids roles that could be seen to reenforce a negative stereotype of black women, but was immediately drawn to Moonlight. It’s clear why. The story is impeccably thought through, and the film as a whole is as raw as it is aesthetically beautiful, and a joy to watch as much as some parts are difficult viewing. The music is fundamental and transcendent, from Mozart to Goodie Mob. On Pitchfork there’s a great interview with Barry Jenkins about the music in the movie, and on one of the pieces of music he says “I feel like film has given so much to me and I just wanted for 30 seconds to show how small the world is.”
Moonlight shows homophobia and tropes of masculinity in all their toxicity, but friendship, love, and simple acts of kindness triumph. It’s a film where love wins, and it’s a film that’s needed after Orlando, during Trump and in the midst of regression. It’s important, and you should go and see it.