You could look at the fact that a mainstream film it making it big with an all-black cast, that this cast is trumping over the all singing, all dancing, whiteness of La la Land. You could question how it managed to win 3 Oscars with a relatively low domestic ticket sale. You could discuss the portrayal of growing up gay in the hood, the war on drugs, the aids epidemic or the aura of hyper-masculinity that hangs in the air alongside the misery. Finally, you could throw up your hands and say “For God’s sake China, why won’t you show it? It’s a masterpiece.”
To contextually dissect this work of art, however, would be similar to pondering too long on whether the Mona Lisa is smiling.
The start of the art is in the title. The moon is feminine symbol that represents the rhythm of time, enlightenment and the dark side of nature. Light is the masculine symbol of purity and morality. Taken together, we receive Moonlight, that beautifully portrays both. Friedrich Nietzsche said “We have art in order not to die of the truth” and in this instance, we have Moonlight to soften and sympathize with the cruel reality through which writers Tarrell Alvin McCraney and Barry Jenkins lived.
Moonlight is intrepid yet humble, visionary yet grounded. It knocks us down at first yet picks us back up when all is said and done.
The protagonist is delivered in three tiers, no one more significant than the other. Each character is unique and well rounded. Little (Alex Hibbert), Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and Black (Trevante Rhodes) do each other justice and give us a believable transition in asking and answering the most important question throughout the text. “Who is you?” (Kevin)
Moonlight is not an average coming of age film. Absent of generic scenes of first kisses or first life changing affirmations as a youngster, this is, the first time a stranger who becomes a father figure taught you to swim. This is the first time your mother ripped money out of your pocket to buy drugs. The first time a boy touched you and you let it happen even though everything around you told you it was wrong and finally the first time you were betrayed by that very boy.
These different kinds of firsts remind us that growing up is difficult. Growing up black and gay alongside a crack addled mother and malicious peers that want to see you bleed is another story. “I cry so much sometimes I might turn to drops” (Chiron)
Heartbreak abounds from the irony of Juan’s role as both the only supportive figure in Little’s life as well as the provider of the substance that leads to his tumultuous home life. It reminds us that life isn’t fair. Director Jenkins does not affirm or contradict the stereotypes we have in our minds. Whether these stereotypes revolve around being gay or black, drug dealing or drug taking.
Chiron’s first sexual experience is a stand-out. It doesn’t throw the audience an unrealistic version of sex amidst great lighting, perfect bodies and matching grunts and pants that arise at the same climatic moment in perfect harmony. This shows us how awkward, surreal and downright scary it is get intimate with someone, especially for the first time.
The dreamy memory sequence will continue to walk with you weeks after you see it, as you walked, ran and hid both literally and metaphorically with Little, Chiron and Black. This movie is not what you want to see or believe but it’s what we need. Yes, Nietzsche, we do, have art not to die from the truth and we have Moonlight to remember and celebrate for the rest of our lives.