There’s a point within Moonlight when there’s full realisation that you really don’t want this experience to end. The film charts the life of Chiron, a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world whilst residing in a rough neighbourhood in Miami.
Jenkins’ script is realised in three separate segments; a timeless story of self-discovery told through the eyes of one individual — Little, an incredibly shy young boy whose life in school feels as isolated as his home life with drug-addicted mother (played by Naomi Harris in an award-worthy performance), Chiron, a mid-adolescent teenager whose social life essentially has him turning every corner with caution from consistent bullying with his only connection laying in a few individuals including distant friend Kevin (also featured in all three segments, played respectively by three separate characters) and step-in motherly figure Teresa (Hidden Figures‘ Janelle Monáe) and finally Black, a strapping and burly “businessman” whose quiet disposition leads a life unfulfilled for the best part.
Themes of inadequacy flow through each representations of these characters. The power given by all three is unparalleled; to maintain a character arc who is played by three astoundingly impressive actors is a feat unheard of, each giving the character of Chiron his own meticulous life breathed fully into someone who, by the end of a two-hour journey, feels painfully realistic in its execution and portrayal. The intimacy holds firm and the message of hopefulness sears itself through Chiron’s eyes.
Moonlight is perpetually able to fully entice an audience. Its lead will resonate deeply with most, and though thematic elements bond and title Chiron as homosexual; Jenkins’ script doesn’t overindulge in the fact that the character is or isn’t. Interpretations are welcomed as the character goes through the motions most adolescent teenagers go through, all with accurate representations and all of which are portrayed with poignancy and a raw, unflinching power by actor Ashton Sanders. A flawless performance merely adheres to Jenkins’ script, and as much as it’s easy to pinpoint Moonlight’s strengths with just one, it’s simply not enough praise to suffice. Youngster Alex R. Hibbert and Trevante Rhodes round off Chiron’s arc but there isn’t one performance which is stronger than the last, each holds its own and each brings forth an uncompromising realness which holds firm, even long after the credits begin to roll.
This insightful portrait of a domineering and suffocating world aches with beauty and a deep, overwhelming sadness. Chiron’s situation feels common, leading through a typically turbulent coming-of-age story but Jenkins fuses it with such an uncommon poignancy. Moonlight has a beat and a pulse within a balanced character work, ranging from the protagonist himself to the supporting characters who either built him — a supporting and kindhearted parental figure from Mahershala Ali — or those who try their hardest to break him — a devastatingly Naomi Harris.
It’s a humanist story with a focus on one character as he desperately ambles through life seeking self-discovery and a want and need from others. It’s universal in its approach as Jenkins’ script and direction is so fulfilling that a connection will be struck as Moonlight will linger and immediately make you rethink the way you approach life, its problems and those who you may or may not come up against during. This is what cinema is made for, and Moonlight is cinema at its absolute purest.
Dir: Barry Jenkins
Scr: Barry Jenkins
Cast: Mahershala Ali, Naomi Harris, Janelle Monáe, Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes
Prd: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Adele Romanski
Music: Nicholas Britell
DOP: James Laxton
Runtime: 111 minutes