DIR/WRI: Barry Jenkins • PRO: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Adele Romanski • DOP: James Laxton • ED: Joi McMillon, Nat Sanders • DES: Hannah Beachler • MUS: Nicholas Britell • CAST: Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp, Duan Sanderson
Believe the hype about Moonlight. The drama, which has been sweeping award ceremonies and been gathering critical acclaim since its premiere in TIFF last year, is finally out in Ireland and it’s incredible. Broken into three sections, the film chronicles the life of black gay American, Chiron (played during the adult section by Trevante Rhodes) and the lives of those close to him. There is his drug addict single mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), his surrogate family found in drug-dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his kind moll, Teresa (Janelle Monae), as well as his first love, Kevin (played in adult form by Andre Holland).
What is amazing about Moonlight is that it takes a tale of a life, that on paper many shouldn’t be able to relate to, and uses it to explore universal themes – thus, making it relatable. For instance, a major part of the movie is the questioning of what it means to be one’s own person. As a boy, Chiron is weak and bullied. Yet, Juan and Kevin show him compassion, giving him advice on how to deal with such problems. As the movie progresses, we see the quiet child from the opening passage develop into a blend of these two people – possessing Juan’s style and kindness, as well as his profession but also Kevin’s habit for provoking reactions from people. Writer-director Barry Jenkins (who based his script off Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue) seems to be suggesting that we subconsciously take traits and habits from those we love or admire, thus shaping our identity – something I feel most people can connect with.
However, besides raising big themes – as well as smaller, more complex issues such as that of gay masculinity and poverty (in regards to the latter who is worse – Paula for her addictions or Juan for profiting from them?) – Moonlight also succeeds equally well as an intimate character study. The combination between the wonderfully soulful performances, the gorgeous blue shades of James Laxton’s Wong-Kar-Wai inflected cinematography and Nicholas Britell’s swelling orchestral score builds to create an almost sensory emotional overload. There is a scene late in Moonlight in which Chiron and Kevin are re-connecting after years apart. Yet, dialogue is not what’s important to the scene. It’s everything around it – the emotive looks of the protagonists, the subtle score, the fact that the movie has been building to this moment. The passion is palpable and the viewer feels it in their chest as they watch, until the long scene unravels in such a beautiful, poetic way.
On paper, Moonlight could be dubbed the “gay black movie” – its praise in media a reactionary response to the times in which we live or the “Oscars so white” fiasco from last year. However, it’s so much more. Jenkins manages in 111 minutes to make the viewer connect and experience ache and elation with Chiron – a task many struggled to do with the protagonist of Richard Linklater’s semi-comparable Boyhood – a three-hour movie which took twelve years to film.
As the Oscar-season winds to a close and dreck like Resident Evil: The Final Chapter rears its ugly head, Moonlight is a reminder that cinema can be a profound human experience, a means of understanding experiences one may never face.
15A See IFCO for details
Moonlight is released 17th March 2017
Moonlight – Official Website