Winner of three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Moonlight follows the emotional, visceral journey of Chiron at three stages of his life. There are layers of depth, constantly asking challenging questions of the audience, which keeps on adding to the voice and tone of this film. It is as much a representation of masculine identities so much as it is a representation of human identities and the constructs of social norms. Barry Jenkin’s film provides everything you could ever want in an emotional, dramatic, coming of age narrative, breaking convention and being bold in its presentation. Technically this film is very gifted, as well. Boasting a beautifully harmonic score and gorgeous cinematography throughout, not mentioning the authentically raw, powerful acting particularly from Mahershala Ali, Naomi Harris and all three portrayals of Chiron. Whether you’re looking for your next film to make you cry or a film that actually grasps meaning and detail underneath the surface, this film has it all. It truly is an emotional masterclass of storytelling.
At its very core, Moonlight is a sincere and genuine film that constantly finds new ways to invest its audience, typically through its characterisation and plot. Chiron is a character for the ages to remember as we are thrown into his unstable situation, both domestically and mentally. Whether it be his drug abusive, inattentive mother, his bullying classmates or the socio-economic community he is trying to fit into, this film explores a wide range of scenarios and places you – the viewer – at the heart of his internal pain. It’s emotionally compelling and so beautifully executed, taking you on his discoveries and progression through the narrative. If you’re one for connecting cathartically, be prepared for tears as this is hardhitting, natural characterisation at its optimal state.
Each point in Chiron’s life is filled with intricate and important moments that all culminate in his eventual realisations later in the film. Its pacing was constant throughout, never once feeling like it was unnecessary or irrelevant for what it was trying to set in motion. These pinnacle moments all brought a sense of greater stakes and broader perspectives to the story, but at the same time felt important individually for the overall contrast in his life. Most notably, the transition from his teenage years to his adult years, where he becomes a very typical male in his ethnic community, muscular in stature and wearing a set of gold teeth. This distinct portrayal of masculinity, especially in contrast to The earlier depictions of such, adds to the enigma and general force it holds in The narrative structure. Add all of this to phenomenal acting from all three actors and you have something of pure magnificence, providing tears, laughs, smiles and gaping shocks.
Chiron, however, isn’t the only character to shine in this story. While it primarily focuses its attention on his journey for identity, Jenkin’s vision also accommodates for an array of rich, emotionally investing characters. Naomi Harris’ depiction of Chiron’s detached mother is as harrowing and frightening as it is powerful and gripping. Her performance is astonishingly human, giving justifications for her behaviourisms and eventually making you sympathise with her situation. Mahershala Ali provides another fantastic addition to the cast, for which he won Best Supporting Actor, that is filled with moral layers and dialogue that flows naturally. He’s troubled, ever so slightly broken, but he’s also committed to helping Chiron. His character isn’t featured for too long, but still plays a pivotal role in Chiron’s development. The minor characters are just as detailed, emotionally riveting and thoroughly convincing as the lead protagonist, reinforcing Jenkin’s ability to craft such compelling and visceral storytelling.
The cinematography is beautifully crafted, a gradient of blue and purple hues maintaining a visually stylistic film and one that continues to please viewers aesthetically. It isn’t the strongest contender for visual presence, but particular shots – including the familiar shot of teenage Chiron lifting his head from an ice cold basin at the mirror, showing his bruised face. It all culminates in this heart wrenching depiction of one boy’s journey for self discovery in a society that never appreciates him. In addition, the score is brilliantly calm and relaxing, offering gentle and subtle vibes to the intense sequences. It allows you to absorb the true messages underneath all the surface level themes and acknowledge the significance of what this film is achieving as a piece of artistic expression.
To conclude, Moonlight is a cinematic experience unlike many others, telling a story of sincerity and authenticity that bleeds confidence and evocative, visceral expression on the screen. It’s characterisation offers opportunities for powerful and truly gut wrenching moments, making you question the society we have known to accept and adhere to. While there are films that have attempted to tackle these themes in the past, Moonlight executes it near flawlessly in all technical areas to produce something of artistic mastery. This is an experience that will have you discussing for days, weeks, perhaps even months on end because of its significance and relevance to the current climate sociologically. Moonlight, in every sense, is a masterpiece in film history.
VERDICT – 9.5/10