I saw Moonlight and it was really nice
I woke up on Saturday, Feb. 4, at 8:00 a.m. I was pretty tired, honestly, but I got up anyway and got myself ready for the day. A friend of mine had come up to my place to visit the night before, and had crashed on my couch. So, naturally, we decided to get breakfast at the diner down the road and go see Moonlight at 10:30 in the morning. It was really nice.
Moonlight is the second film of 37-year-old director Barry Jenkins. It's based on the played In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, and is split up - literally - into three acts: i. Little, ii. Chiron, and iii. Black. The film is centered around the story of a boy, Chiron, and his struggles with accepting himself for who he is within the cultural boundaries of the tough Miami and Atlanta neighborhoods he lives in. Act one, i. Little, covers his childhood, ii. Chiron, covers his teenage years, and iii. Black, his adult life.
The film does a few things exceptionally well, and the leading component among those is the cinematography. There are some wildly creative camera angles and lighting situations used throughout the film, including a noticeably high amount of long-held profile shots and close-ups. But, the thing I was drawn to the most about the way it was shot was the use of shadows and negative space with lighting. The cameras used shadows, rather than light, to frame and draw attention to what's going on, on screen. Barry Jenkins' story is a dark one, about an internal struggle led by a man living an uneasy life with little time to worry about more than his safety, and the use of shadows to show the emotions and hidden thoughts on his characters' minds was brilliant. Moonlight is truly aesthetically pleasing as a piece of art. Watching it sort of felt, in a way, like stepping into the head of someone with severe anxiety and paranoia. You could gather what was going on, and assess the situation, but you never felt like you knew everything that was going on, like there was something charged that could happen at any moment.
The film is full of tense, tense moments. But one of the beautiful things about the tensity of those moments is the use of unusual camera angles and music (which was also excellent, by the way). There were a few points in Moonlight that made me grip my seat and feel real, and intense, discomfort. But not because what I saw on screen was uncomfortable, but because the movie did such a good job of putting you in Chiron's head, and watching him struggle with his identity and the path he's taking in life is truly moving.
I wouldn't describe the actual story of Moonlight to be anything extremely groundbreaking. This struggle with identity is by no means an uncovered topic in the literary and film industries. The bildungsroman story type often covers the main character's journey to discover who they really are. However, Moonlight touches on the life we cover up, and the secrets we keep. Whether your secret is as powerful as Chiron's is entirely dependent on who you happen to be. It was relatable in that we all have secrets, some big and some small, and some that can tear us apart and eat at our insides. We all put on fronts to disguise our feelings - some of us permanently.
The greatest lesson this movie teaches is the lesson that we must decide for ourselves who we're to become. It does so in a story Juan, a rather well off crack dealer that befriends a young Chiron in act one, tells Chiron about his childhood. When Chiron explains that the other children call him "Little" as a hurtful nickname, Juan tells him about how he used to run in the moonlight down his street, alone. How he used to escape the world around him and be with his own thoughts during these runs. An elderly woman on his street sees him one night and tells him how in the moonlight, little black boys appear a blueish color. The elderly woman began to call Juan "Blue" because of this. When Chiron asks if people still call him "Blue," he tells Chiron that "no one can tell you who to be. You've got to do that yourself."
Overall, I enjoyed the movie. It's well acted - Alex Hibbert ("Little" Chiron), Ashton Sanders (Chiron), and Trevante Rhodes (Chiron "Black") - and it incorporates powerful cinematography and good musical choices to really invoke emotional responses to the events on screen. I'd definitely recommend it, and do expect it to leave the Academy Awards with at least some recognition for the camera work. Moonlight is a well done sophomoric attempt from Barry Jenkins, and a sure sign that we should keep our eyes on this young director as much as we are the (probable Best Film winner) Damien Chazelle.
Go see this movie, and prepare to find the connection with Chiron and his struggle to find his true identity and accept himself. It was very well done. A friend of mine and I decided to get breakfast at the diner down the road and go see Moonlight at 10:30 in the morning, and it was really nice.