Moonlight is the first full-length feature directed by newcomer Barry Jenkins and revolves around the life of the lost and confused Chiron, a boy who lives in very poor conditions with his crack addict single mother in an underdeveloped area of South Florida. The movie follows him throughout his life in 3 separate acts, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. That's about all I can really say without giving too much away. This is one of those "the less you know the better" kind of films. And that's not because it's so narrative driven, actually it's opposites. The narrative itself is pretty light, and sparse between the events. That may sound like a fault, but the direct storyline isn't the heavy hitter of the film here. It's all the subtext and the details myyyyy faaavvvorrriteeeeee :-}. So the less of an idea you have of the story, the better I think you will have at forming your own thoughts and conclusions about this. I'll say the things I like about it that don't involve spoilers in the next paragraph, but other than that, expect spoilers throughout the rest of the review.
So the acting here is pretty flawless. I don't know if anyone really stands out as being better than their counterpart because everything here was just sort of executed perfectly. All actors who play Chiron during their respective ages do a fantastic part of making sure the mannerisms and essence of the character are carried on and honored with each new age. They then also bring something new to the table each time, as Chiron is growing up and still developing. Everything about him makes sense and the character is very consistent throughout the film. Small nuance, but I don't think it would have been as amazing without it. The supporting cast are no slouches either, as each character delivers an incredibly raw and genuine performance at any given time. Special shout out to Janelle Monae who is mainly known for her musical career; she really held her own with the rest of these stellar actors. Next, there's the lighting and camera work. I'll get into a little more detail as they involve spoilers but what I can say is they too are flawless. I don't think I've seen a cleaner shot movie in terms of it' lighting vs. camera work, it was unreal. I could tell an insane amount of effort went into framing each and every shot. None of it was filler. And finally, the pacing is pretty great too. No one section outlasts the other. I commended My Golden Days for having staggered pacing when it came to the different ages because I believed it actively represented how we remember periods of our life, but here, having the equal amount of time in each period better represented the theme of the movie, and I was actually glad they felt balanced. Alright, that's about all I can say without spoilers so go see this movie now if any of this sounds remotely interesting to you. I promise this will get a best picture nomination so if anything it'll knock it off your list!
[SPOILERS] Man okay where to start. I guess with the main overall theme. So this movie was all about identity. But it's not necessarily about like the unique quirks of an interesting person. It's more along the lines of identity in every sense of an identity (what?). This involves environmental identity, sexual identity, aesthetic identity, what-kind-of-person-you-want-to-be identity. This is such a powerful theme because I don't think it's been explored at the depth that this movie takes it. And in a world where you have the least amount of restrictions in human history with regards to how you want to identify yourself, I think this could not have come out at a more relevant time. It shows how you are shaped by the people around you, how your home plays into your social, how your heroes impact your life years and years later, and how one little moment can stay with you and possess you for far longer than it should have. These are all ideas discussed and tackled in the film. And the way it's shot and presented accentuates all of that as much as it possibly can. First of all the film is shot using a lot of centered close-ups on characters, especially Chiron. Not only is this a super intimate type of shot, but it also of exposes the character as a whole. That is who they are on the exterior; they can't hide it from who they interact with, or us as the audience. There are also a whole lot of shots that follow Chiron from behind, centered similarly, only we just see the back of his head. That to me said that we don't know who he is yet fully, and maybe he doesn't yet either. And that leaves us a bit dejected from him even though it's literally the exact opposite of the first shot I described. Beyond the characters, everything was framed so beautifully. This one gives La La Land a little run for its money, as all the good shots in that film are basically a minimum type of shot for Moonlight. Like everything is perfectly centered and symmetric. It's so visually pleasing you can't take your eyes off it.
Then there was the lighting. My god I don't even know. It could have been the lenses, it could have been masterfully set up lights, it could have been some post production. Whatever they did was 10/10. Lighting is so important and often overlooked in films. As I always bring up, good lighting, in for example something like a noir, is part of the story, it plays into the theme. Well similarly here the lighting goes straight into the theme. One of the characters at the beginning was telling Chiron that back when he lived in Cuba people there would call him Blue because when the moonlight shined off him it would make him look blue. When Chiron asked him if that's who he was he replied, "I was who ever I wanted to be" (I'm paraphrasing). Well wouldn't you now it there are a lot of blue things in this film. The color palate has a big emphasis on blue. There are props and blatant outfits that are blue. But the lighting. The lighting that is often on Chiron makes him look blue in the exact moments the film intends him to be. This to me means two things. One: the people he's interacting with see him as something he's not. He's either putting up a facade (more so when his clothes are actually blue), or people don't truly understand him or his situation. My best example of this is that all three sections of the movie are titled a name that was given to him by someone else. Two: the moments when he is blue are the moments he is most struggling with his identity. See, blue with respect to Chiron comes from the ocean in the film, and the ocean is seen as his safe space. All three sections in the film lead back to that ocean in some way. He wanted to emulate and project the feelings and emotions he felt there into his own identity. And to me that's super profound. It makes you think about your own identity and what makes you truly you. What things from your life do you carry and try and replicate from a day-to-day basis? How do you find your ocean, and how do you make that your identity? Throughout the film you find out that it kind of finds you one way or another.
The last thing I wanted to talk about was what the film exceeded my expectations in. I stupidly thought this movie was going to get bogged down by over compensating its message on poverty and sexuality. Not that there's anything wrong with it or that I find a ton of issue with that, but to me, emersion in a film is the most important thing and when a movie goes too hard on it's message sometimes it can bring you out of it (I know, what a fucking complaint Nick). BUT this movie does what I wish every movie did. Say it with me: Show, Don't Tell. Never at any point in the movie did a character say “life's so hard here,” or the hood is so rough, or “we gotta get out of here.” We see it ourselves. We don't need the movie to tell us that life in impoverish areas are hard, we see how hard it is! And in a very organic and genuine way might I say. When it came to Chiron’s struggle with his sexuality, we could see him struggling it over his in thoughts. His actions help you understand his mindset a little bit better every time. But he never says, "I'm gay" or asks for help on exploring his thoughts (other than that half second question). He literally has to handle it on his own and it's like we're trapped in his mind with him. When he has his sexual moments, the camera holds long shots on him in action. It forces us to look and observe his actions. This helps break the ice and truly put us in the shoes of this person and in a possibly unfamiliar situation. I can't commend this film enough on those decisions, because without it I wouldn't have nearly praised this film as much nor written all of these words about it. [END SPOILERS]
So that’s Moonlight, a movie that I believe has truly met the appropriate critical reception it's received. I certainly am not the only one who feels this way about the movie. Films like these are really truly why I write these posts. They're exciting, satisfying, and inspiring. I didn't even get to talk about all the side characters and how they all play into Chiron’s theme and motif of the film. Perhaps you've already noticed them! Now, is this a better movie than La La Land? Hard to say, as they are two different films which both executed flawlessly their subject matter. I think I would have to say that Moonlight is a more technically (as in the techniques used) flawless film, but it's not my favorite over LLL due to a less "weighty" story. That shouldn't mean too much though as both these movies are arguably interchangeable with me. Go see this movie please, films like this need more than critical support. Do yourself a favor and don't wait until it's on TV in a year or two, go see it in theatres, it really deserves it. 9.5/10