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Moonlight: Growing Up Through a Different Lens

Okay. The Golden Globes was last night. So many unprecedented snubs (Mahershala Ali, Rami Malek, and Riz Ahmed were ROBBED!) and triumphs (Tracee Ellis Ross! Viola Davis! ATLANTA!) and, even though La La Land wins all the categories it was nominated for, it has not faced another potential contender for Best Film, Moonlight. Although I agree that La La Land is a charming film worthy of praise, I believe that Moonlight should be crowned movie of the year. And this is my argumentative essay for that thesis statement. (Well, I haven’t watched Manchester By The Sea, or Arrival, or Elle, or Lion, or Jackie, but it’s all between Moonlight and La La Land.)

So, I watched Moonlight together with Moana (a great film with a great score and a genius soundtrack, albeit holding the obvious three-act structure and the very clear pattern of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey that makes it feel cliche’d; it could have been WAY better) based on several recommendations on the internet, yet I was hesitant because only select theaters are playing it, and the one closest to my home is 1hr 30mins away by bus. Then, my theatre professor (whom taste I trust) recommended it as one of the best films of this year, and I found an empty day, so I watched the films. The film itself is about three stages of Chiron’s (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes) life and his relationship with his mother (Naomie Harris), his mentors Juan (Mahershala Ali) and Teresa (Janelle Monae), and coming in terms with his homosexuality in his relationship with his longtime best friend Kevin (Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, Andre Holland). Some say this would be a black, gay, non-pretentious, improved version of Boyhood. And, I kid you not, Moonlight is one of the most transforming films I’ve ever watched. The effect I got after watching Moonlight is equivalent to after watching A Copy of my Mind, which I reviewed here. This film is profound at the heightened sense.

This film TRULY uses the film medium into a whole new level. The cinematography is stellar and out of this world. It really portrays Miami in a skewed perspective – this movie is about the inner journey of Chiron, and the cinematography portrays Miami in the eyes of Chiron. The score is also uncommon; it uses classical music to portray an African American story in Miami. Yet the score is so important – if other directors were to be given this movie, they will probably fill it with hip hop songs. Barry Jenkins uses a fair amount of hip hop songs in describing Chiron’s community, yet the classical score conveys Chiron’s inner workings and his mind as he discovers new things that contributes to his own self-discovery. The leitmotifs and some of the song choices reminds me of Wong Kar-wai, but we’ll discuss it later. The whole aesthetic of this film is just…. beautiful. It’s one of those films where you can pause it in any moment, and the picture in front of you will always look good as a wallpaper. (I borrowed this quote from Uti, hello!)

moonlight1Mahershala Ali and Alex Hibbert in one of the greatest scenes in the film.

The acting is stellar! Jenkins brought so many newcomers that is well deserved of praise. Usually, I would cringe watching the performances of young actors in other movies, because it’s quite a diamond in the rough to find good young actors. Alex Hibbert did a really great job in portraying young Chiron, and it all feels so natural. The actors in this movie did their job really well, because they convince us so much, this film feels like real life. Everything feels so natural, and even its emotional imperfections seem so natural. Naomie Harris, who plays Chiron’s mother and a crack addict, manages to pull off a very convincing performance albeit having to shoot this in between her Spectre international press tour. Her character feels like a real person who you would meet in the bus transit center, even though her character’s premise seems so dramatic. André Holland and Trevante Rhodes could portray longing between really good friends. And, Mahershala Ali is worthy of all the awards buzz as he beams with charisma while keeping his performance grounded as a drug dealer who is also Chiron’s mentor. This ensemble is one of the best acting ensembles I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch.

I read somewhere that Jenkins is deeply inspired by Wong Kar-wai and Hou Hsiao-hsien. I can feel that this film has lots of references to both filmmakers, and did what both filmmakers do best. Wong Kar-wai is known for his great portrayal of longing in between his characters, his neon-laden universes, and his great personal music aesthetic. Jenkins adopted it through building Chiron’s character and adding the movie with eclectic song choices (including Cucurucucu Paloma, which was included in Wong Kar-wai’s film Happy Together). Hou Hsiao-hsien is best known for his long takes and enigmatic shots. Jenkins truly incorporated that in Moonlight. Yet, both directors are known for their use of silence. In Moonlight, silence is brilliantly used to portray both Chiron’s inner mind and for the audience to absorb everything that is conveyed on screen, much like Chiron trying to absorb the overwhelming realizations around him as he grows up. Sometimes we should not yak about and talk bullshit, or listen to other people talk bullshit. Sometimes it’s best to quit talking and just…. get in tune with the world around you. Silencio, por favor!

Anyway – Moonlight is a story long overdue. All these years we see the same old story in the Oscars race, telling about struggles of humanity through a straight white male lens. Moonlight might not tell about a story as extraordinary as Leonardo Dicaprio sleeping in a horse’s carcass, or Brie Larson locked into a room for five years. But it is a fresh take of a classic coming-of-age tale, told through the eyes of a black gay protagonist. In its realm, Chiron is a man who might seem tough on the outside, but has so much depth in his personality. Chiron’s conflict is not only with his mother, or with his bullies, but also with the notion of black masculinity, an interesting topic explored in this film. This is one of the reasons why this film is not as bland as it seems on paper. This is also a story about identity, about Chiron finding himself through the people around him. Some directors who chose to bring up this story on identity might botch it with lazy technical aspects and a lesser knack in storytelling (cough Boyhood cough), but Jenkins has proven his mastery in the film medium by creating a spiritual experience out of a coming-of-age film. An audience must be affected in some way after watching this film. Some of them might come out of the theater as a changed person, because Jenkins brings this interesting story to the table, told through a different lens, as well as telling this story through visual and auditory aspects effectively. This is not just a movie – this is an experience.

★★★★★

About the author patriciaksmngtys

Patricia K. is an Indonesian computer science student based in New York. When she's not busy manipulating data structures, you can find her watching movies or talking about them.

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One Comment

  1. […] he faces Mahershala Ali,  a very tough competitor. I’ve seen Moonlight (and I reviewed it here), and I admit that Ali’s acting is amazing, and he could really give life and turn a […]

    Reply

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