Moonlight is a 2016 anthology film written and directed by Barry Jenkins and stars Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monae, Naomie Harris, Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes in a story about a young boy who grows into a man- and struggles to find his identity in the world. I went into this movie knowing absolutely nothing- having not even seen the trailer or read reviews, and I was blown away by what I saw. Barry Jenkins and the cast did a beautiful job in capturing this story, everything from the writing to the directing and editing was just marvelous and emotionally moving. I’m going to go ahead and give a spoiler warning for this, even though the marketing for the film contains things that I would have originally considered “spoilers,” I’m just going to spoil the rest. Just watch the film!
Watching the movie, I didn’t know that it was a story about a gay man who felt insecure about himself, but rather a shy kid who didn’t fit in (until the reveal in the second act). I think that a large majority of films and audiences by default just assume that a character is straight unless mentioned otherwise, and that’s exactly how I went into this movie (I’m looking forward until the day when it’s not assumed, and it doesn’t have to be stated until it’s important for the story. Like Dumbledore, or Elsa!). When Little started to ask Juan about what being gay meant at the end of the first act, I could see the story of the film start to take shape, and it’s that story that became the primary plot for the rest of the film- and it was handled in such a fantastic way.
I have two friends who saw this film before I did: one who was absolutely enamored by the film, and another who felt disappointed by it. The latter claimed that Chiron felt stoic and was hard to get behind simply because of how he was written and portrayed- not because of sexual orientation but just characterization. Regarding his comments about the lead being stoic, I cannot say he is wrong in seeing that, as films are subjective, but I wholeheartedly disagree- as I personally found him to be a great character, and was portrayed exactly how I would expect him to be after going through the things that he has. The first step, I think, in understanding his character is to understand what shaped his character. And the rest of this review will be in defense of Chiron’s portrayal and characterization being perfect for him.
Let’s start with “stoic”- so, by definition, he seems unemotional, bland, and flat. Since this is a movie – and especially a movie with this amount of attention and praise – you can assume that nothing is by accident, and that they casted an actor who could play the character brilliantly. So why does he seem unemotional? Well, to answer a question with a question: when has he ever felt comfortable sharing his views or feelings? We have a character who has grown up in a world that makes him feel unloved and worthless. The ONLY male person in his entire life that has shown unconditional respect or love for him is Juan. Juan became a father figure, and a best friend to Chiron and made him feel comfortable. Even the scene in which Chiron is taught to float in the sea is sort of like a baptizing, in which Chiron is now accepted into a world that wants him just as much as he wants it. And then Juan dies, and he feels all alone again. Throughout the entire film, only one person ever knew that Chiron was gay, and that was Kevin; they shared a scene in which they kiss on the beach, and from there, realize that they like each other more than they originally thought. However, Kevin is asked to beat Chiron later and does so without question, which is a moment that shapes him for the rest of his life.
So, what does this have to do with him feeling “stoic”? Chiron grew up in a world that didn’t like or didn’t want him simply for who he was. We don’t get that much information about Chiron’s personality because he doesn’t share anything about himself, largely because he spends most of the movie fighting himself- he doesn’t know who he is and that’s the person the world has shaped him to be. When he finally showed vulnerability to his friend, he got beat up a day later, and then he tried to take a stand and be a man, and then got thrown in jail because of it. In jail, he met a person who offered help, and then made money selling drugs on the streets afterwards- exactly what the only father figure (or caring man) in his life did. And then, he begins lifting and working out because he has to be “hard” to make it in the real world, to appear “straight,” he feels, which is something he didn’t feel he could do before. If his friend won’t stand up for him, he has to stand up for himself- which is why he would and could not let anybody close to him. In summation, that is Chiron’s character and it makes sense why he says very little… but that doesn’t make him a small character
So, I guess this review is more of a single character study than a full movie review, but I’ll just say that I loved the rest just as much as the character. The direction was outstanding, and that’s apparent from the very first scene, and the rotating camera work, which blew me away. I loved the three-act structure akin to Steve Jobs, I thought the story was interesting and the progression made a lot of sense. I didn’t think the character was stoic, but rather a silent and wonderful character in search for who he is- or who he can be happiest pretending to be until he’s finally comfortable with the man he’s supposed to be. His relationships with real mother as well as the family he voluntarily becomes a part of, I thought were handled beautifully, and this movie was one of the most emotional of the year. I really am looking forward to seeing this film again and being able to appreciate even more aspect of it, and I’m going to recommend this film an 8/10 and a green recommendation. As always, thanks for reading, and comment your opinions of the film below! I’ll see you soon!