Sometimes, a movie can transcend the boundaries of its medium and create an everlasting feeling of sorrow and hope that an audience member takes with them when they leave their seats. "#Moonlight" performs the tightrope act well, telling an unfamiliar story in a novel structure without losing the heart of its characters.
About the film
"Moonlight" is an independent drama film. Directed by Barry Jenkins, for whom this film is very personal, the movie was widely released in the United States on October 21, 2016.
We meet Chiron as a young boy who doesn't fit in anywhere in Liberty City, Florida, but eventually comes close to a drug dealer and his girlfriend. As Chiron ages, he becomes close with Kevin and has his first sexual encounter with him before being beaten to a pulp and sent to prison for retaliating. Chiron falls into the same drug dealing patterns of his former mentor and fatherly figure, but still hasn't come to terms with his past or his sexuality when he decides to go meet Kevin one more time.
Great acting, ambiance
The acting in "Moonlight" is nothing short of miraculous. Chiron is played by three different people due to the narrative set-up of three different life stages, but the characterization and the path the character takes from actor to actor, setting to setting is clear.
The tenor of the film is dark and brooding, a cold avalanche waiting to crescendo. Throughout "Moonlight" we see Chiron is tortured not just by the bullying, from both his schoolmates and mother, but from the inner turmoil that encompasses the gay experience in an inner city. He had no one to turn to, leaving him desperately lonely, dreaming for better days.
The story has a certain potency to it, like a bottle rocket waiting to explode. During the film's second act, Kevin is forced to beat Chiron to a pulp immediately after their sexual encounter. At first, it seems like Kevin won't do it -- the thwack of a first hitting a skull changes that quickly. It's one of the most tragically vibrant moments in a film this year.
A big issue one could take with "Moonlight" is the lack of female characters. Chiron's mother is an addict who abuses her son in more ways than one -- people aren't looking to her as a beacon. That leaves the glow of his father figure's girlfriend, Teresa, portrayed by Janelle Monae. She's a kind and virtuous woman, but all we really know about her is that she gives Chiron a place to stay and some extra money; we never really learn much more about her. There are no other named female characters in the entire movie.
Still, the power of the story in "Moonlight" carries the day and night far beyond the screen. There's a visceral sense of longing and loss, of desire and incompletion, of love and lust. For all these reasons and more, "Moonlight" should find itself a place in the "Best Picture" category at the next Oscar ceremony.