It’s going on two weeks since I’ve seen Moonlight, a not-insignificant amount of time to have to remember something – all things considered. But I haven’t forgotten Moonlight. I would be hard to.
Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight follows three periods in the life of Chiron, a black Miami native who lives with his single mother. Drugs play a role, as does family and burgeoning sexuality. For Chiron, none of it is perfect.
The film takes its title and inspiration from the Tarell Alvin McCraney play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, which provides Jenkins with his central metaphor: moonlight as magnifying glass for melancholy. It’s a beautiful and terrible thought, one exacerbated by Chiron’s circumstance.
His mother is a crack addict, his classmates are bullies, and he is quick to recognize himself as a homosexual. He’s bullied physically at school and emotionally at home. He’s called a “faggot” and is beat and has his money taken from his bag. It’s enough to crack anyone, and eventually Chiron does crack.
But before he does we have to talk about Kevin.
Kevin is Chiron’s oldest friend. He’s also wise and understanding beyond his years, and keeps Chiron in good spirits when he can. His sexuality is confused, however. When they are children, Chiron and Kevin show one another their privates; as teenagers, Kevin loudly brags about his sexual prowess with women before kissing and giving a handjob to Chiron one night the two boys are stoned under the moonlight on the beach.
Kevin also breaks Chiron. Kevin is forced – during a kind of teenage initiation process (to what, I’m not sure) – to beat up Chiron, which he does, verbally abusing him in the fight. The initiation is overseen by a bully named Terrel, and the following day at school Chiron breaks a wooden chain over the boy’s back, resulting in an immediate trip to juvie.
I’ll leave the story here, at the end of part two and at the film’s climax. It’s a gorgeous work. The saturation of color throughout creates an immersive atmosphere, illuminating both life and its hardships. The story structure resembles that of a short story. Quick chapters with connective tissues, but narratively whole in and of themselves. It’s a treat to watch – 110 minutes of time that melts away.