I just had a spellbinding experience at the movies, an occurrence of perfect cinematic orchestration in the presentation of Barry Jenkins’s queer masterpiece, Moonlight. In triptych style, Jenkins portrays the three faces Chiron presents during the three life-stages that mold him.
Tiny Chiron is constantly being victimized for his diminutive stature. It appears they know something about him, something he still can’t even conceptualize, sexuality. The other kids aren’t necessarily picking on him for being little, but rather for lack of knowledge. From an early age they seem to be warping his mentality, straying him farther and farther away from being a proud man and closer to what will result in his concealment of self. But it’s not only the kids that seem to be corrupting his homosexual identity, it’s also his mother.Brilliantly played by Naomie Harris, his mother as a drug addict screams at Little, night after night, degrading his confidence of sexuality. Everything at this point in time is rather confusing for Little, even the way he sees world as James Laxton films in a meandering fashion similar to that of Antonioni’s camera-work. It is also in this segment of Moonlight that we get to see Mahershala Ali bask in the glory of his role as Juan. He turns in a terrific supporting performance as he plays a sort-of guy Little takes to be his parental figure before certain things are unveiled. It is from this mystifying introduction that we’re taken to an even more confusing and formative time Chiron’s lifetime, that of being a teenager in high-school.
We all know what it’s like, being a teenager, everything during that time period is over-exaggerated or undervalued, nothing seems normal and everything seems to perplex one’s self. Now imagine being Chiron and all those feelings amping up superfluously. He’s gotten to a point of total insolation and confusion, silent as ever and also seemingly deaf to an extent, as that which seems unnecessary is received as muffled audio by his ears. Sadly though, among all this confusion, this is also the time of Chiron’s formation, one that will be highly affected by all the paradoxical behavior that occurs around him. His mom harasses him for money to get drugs yet says she loves him, his best-friend Kevin viciously punches him in-front of the entire school, certainly Chiron can’t trust anything that surrounds him because the world acts in a senseless manner. Why shouldn’t he just adopt a life he knows and reject the past, start somewhere new, start somewhere beyond the senseless violence and drugs he can’t control, go somewhere where he can focus on those very things that destroyed his individuality and gain control of them. Sadly that means abandoning his self and refusing what makes him Chiron, he must abandon the name, the sense of individuality, sexuality, and contradict that image those have created about him, forget Chiron and become Black.
Chiron’s gone, now there’s Black. He abandoned all sense of self, living of the basis of a stereotype and re-enacting memories of lives he knew. He’s as far from the concept of Chiron he doesn’t even look like the same person, he’s replaced his skittish figure with an absurd amount of muscles and instead of being tormented by drugs he’s in a position where he controls the supplying of drugs. All he does is work and exercise, amounting money and muscle with no purpose in mind. Trevante Rhodes plays Black as an entirely different entity than the previous faces of Chiron, that’s until a voice from the past calls him back and a retrospective journey back to Miami commences. Kevin calls him out of the blue, the only man with whom he ever shared his sexuality intimately cals him. What does that mean? Black plays it off as nothing but that tiny fragment of the real Chiron that remains in him somewhere tries to protest. Sadly, as mentioned previously Black’s lost all sense of self, Black’s lost Chiron and even though we desire to see Black invite Kevin to escape the trappings of their location and escape somewhere where they can live openly in love, that’s not going to happen. Moonlight tells us the truth, it seeks our comprehension through fact, that way there’s no way to fight it and all that remains is trying to understand it in order to find ways to better the situation.
Moonlight is the best American Wong Kar-Wai film, touching on the concept of love and identity with the most eloquent of sensibilities. Barry Jenkins does a phenomenal job in driving this fragmented tale of a man finding out who he is and choosing whether to accept or abandon that notion of identity. Technically, the film also works beautifully, from cinematography to lighting, everything works to perfection. Everyone delivers extremely different but equally magnificent performances. Moonlight is fantastic, certainly one of the year’s best, a beautifully told tragic tale that explores the crossroads between nature, nurture, sexuality and identity.