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Moonlight

Discussion in 'Article Discussion' started by Melody Bot, Nov 28, 2016.

  1. Melody Bot

    Your friendly little forum bot. Staff Member

    This article has been imported from chorus.fm for discussion. All of the forum rules still apply.

    No one is any one thing. Our identities have history, they are shaped by what is always inside us and how we react to external influences, two storms constantly colliding in our hearts and minds as we find and mold ourselves throughout our lives. In Moonlight we take that journey with Chiron, and it is a dynamic, beautiful, frustrating, achingly bittersweet arc. It is a black film that celebrates blackness by being thoroughly and dynamically black. It is a film about a man’s coming to terms with his sexuality and how it informs his masculinity in nuanced, layered ways. It is a human film, filled with complicated joy, paralyzing pain, and all the in-between. It is a remarkable coming of age film that evokes the classic imagery and sound of foreign arthouse works, but contextualizes those familiar notes in American blackness. The film brings to life a black experience that is allowed to be nuanced, human, and tenderly sexual. Barry Jenkins lifts each character up in empathy and actualization; even when it utilizes familiar archetypes they are contextualized in the entirety of Chiron’s experience magnificently. Moonlight is a stunning work.

    The film is about Chiron, and its follows three different points in his life. Once when he is somewhere between 8-10 (played by Alex Hibbert), once where he is around 16 (played by Ashton Sanders), and then again when he’s in his mid-twenties (played as an adult by Trevante Rhodes). We’re introduced to him at his most vulnerable. He is bullied, chased by neighborhood kids until he escapes them by hiding himself in a vacant apartment turned drug den. He is found by Juan (Mahershala Ali), a local drug dealer, and though Juan tries to connect with him, Chiron is reluctant to let out a word. Juan is possibly the first person in Chiron’s life to treat him with any real care. His father isn’t around and his mother’s dependency on drugs doesn’t allow her to be the caregiver Chiron needs. Juan is a good-hearted father figure, he brings Chiron into his home and introduces him to his partner Teresa (Janelle Monae). Chiron is fed and cared for, then returns to his mother (Naomi Harris), but his relationship with Juan and Teresa continues. Juan teaches him how to swim, talks to him about identity, and answers his hard life questions honestly. Sometimes heartbreakingly. Meanwhile, the kids at school do not stop picking on Chiron, but one reaches out. Kevin (played as a child by Jaden Piner) advises Chiron to show his tormentors that he isn’t “soft”. They wrestle, joke, and laugh. The moments we see with these kids are small, but they are full. The film is lush with these small stories, filmed and structured in a way that recalls Chiron’s snapshots of memories the way we often think back on what we’ve been through, some moments obviously impactful, others seemingly small but at the same time significant, stuck in our minds for a reason. Those subtle, restrained moments inform so much, like one afternoon when Chiron comes home to find his mother absent. He draws his own bath, filling the tub halfway before bringing a pot of water to a boil and pouring it into the tub. He sits in the water, alone, but with connections beyond his broken household for the first time.

    This first chapter introduces us to the most important people in Chiron’s life, and they remain part of him throughout the rest of the film. Those relationships grow naturally, and are not always easy. We next pick up with Chiron as a teenager. He and Kevin (now played with vibrant humor by Jharrel Jerome) connect on a deeper level, but there’s always something in between. Moonlight is always showing us a Chiron caught in the murkiness of who he is and who he wants to be, what he has and what he wants, often hard for him to define. No matter how concrete or how vague his desires, there’s always something in the way. His mother’s addiction, a school bully, the drawings of a child. These are the external factors that weigh on Chiron and shape his identity. His reactions inform who he turns into, and it is not always fair. He is severely beaten by kids at his high school, and when lashing back at his oppressors, ends up being the one pushed into the back of a police car.

    Chiron struggles, yes, but again this is a dynamic film that, like Chiron, is never one thing. This is a story about self love, specifically black love. Teresa tells a withdrawn Chiron, almost unable to ever raise his head high, always staring into his lap, “You know my rule. It’s all love and pride in this house”. One of Chiron’s other nicknames, given to him as a teenager by Kevin, is Black. Now in his twenties, Chiron has become an archetypical expression of black masculinity. He is no longer scrawny, he has put on taut muscles, abs lovingly framed as a smooth, rippling force on his stomach. He wears gold plates on his teeth and rides low to deep, booming hip hop. Now played by Trevante Rhodes, Chiron is near unrecognizable from the boy we met an hour and a half ago. He is showing everyone that he is not “soft”. Ultimately though, his past comes around, and peeking out through Rhodes’ performance is the Chiron of old, the Chiron who admitted that he cries all the time. The Chiron who was so often confused and just trying his best to stay afloat among a sea of emotion. Rhodes’ longing stares, the way he looks at someone he cares about, the way we see him carefully consider what he’s about to say as someone who has always had such difficulty expressing himself before, it is a remarkable, stellar performance. He meets his mother in rehab in an absolute masterclass between two exceptional performers. They confront what they could not be to each other before, both letting tears roll down their cheeks, struggling to meet eyes. The sequence is filmed exquisitely: even when Chiron reaches out to wipe the tear from his mother’s eye, it is after she’s taken a drag on a cigarette, and the smoke flows between them, a ghostly reminder of what weighs on them, what has always been between them, an echo of what will always be a part of their bond.

    Moonlight is Barry Jenkins’ second film (his debut, Medicine for Melancholy, is worth seeing). It is a stylistic foray into something new, playing with time and structure in a way that’s Linklater-esque, and much like the Everybody Wants Some!! director, the connection between Jenkins and his characters is palpable. The cinematography lifts everyone with such care and beauty, a tenderness that bleeds from the screen, enveloping us within the lush blues and neon pinks of the exquisitely composed images. On the beach one night, Jenkins emphasizes Kevin’s hand running through the sand after his and Chiron’s first sexual encounter, and then brings that hand to attention again later when Kevin drops Chiron off. He reaches out that hand for Chiron to take, and Chiron hesitates. Not because he’s put off, but because he’s never had a connection like this before. It is one of the film’s most poignant moments when the hands meet again. The film is so deeply itself, so lovingly Chiron’s story, but it is never apologetic, never easy. It allows Chiron’s story to be one of blackness and one of queerness, but knows that those things are not the entirety of him. Important parts of him, yes. But this is not a film about the fight for those things on a broad scale, like a Milk or 12 Years a Slave. It is so deeply personal, so much about how those aspects of identity manifest in one person alongside so many others facets of being, and then how interconnected that is with the entirety of the human experience. By being so specific on Chiron, by celebrating his story so empathetically, Moonlight becomes a triumph on a massive scale from the first second of its runtime. Jenkins lets us know what this film is right away: the first words we hear in the film are sung, playing through Juan’s car stereo before a single frame is even shown. The film’s thesis statement comes through in Boris Gardner’s most famous song, and the film immerses itself in that message and extends that love for the whole of its experience. We are better for it.

     
  2. Victor Eremita

    Not here. Isn't happening. Supporter

    Great review for a great film. The reviewer said it better than I can already--everyone should see this one.
     
    Nathan likes this.
  3. Yeah...

    Good review, but I saw this last night (highly anticipated) and was wildly disappointed. I genuinely thought this movie was filled with poor filmmaking.

    :-/
     
  4. TJ Wells

    Trusted Prestigious

    Jesus christ. Please elaborate. If there's one thing that is absolutely perfect about this movie it's the filmmaking. Maybe you could find slight faults in the script, but...wow.
     
    Jason Tate likes this.
  5. Hmm. I don't know what you think I meant by "filmmaking," but I meant it in the general sense of "making a film," not something more specific, i.e., the cinematography.

    That said, though, the cinematography was pretty showy, which becomes frustrating when all the handheld camera motions keeps the images from staying in focus. It was dizzying at times, even in scenes when the close-up hyperactive editing was wholly unnecessary. Meanwhile, giving the camera the time to make some big movements led to some really awkward staging. There were a handful of moments in the film where I thought, "Do people actually just stand around and stare this often?" Moments like these took me out of the film because I felt like I was watching something being staged and filmed rather than watching something that was organically happening.

    You mention yourself that the script has some weaknesses, and by the end of the film I was tired of watching a main character who barely ever said anything. Of the iii parts of the film, I thought each one was weaker than the last. I would've preferred a whole movie of Chiron getting to know Juan and opening up to him rather than Juan (perhaps the movie's most believable and likable character) being removed with only one brief mention of what happened to him. But when Chiron did say something (in parts ii and iii), I found the dialogue occasionally laughable. You could call it a "layered" performance, but sometimes I couldn't tell whether Chiron was trying to lie and say things just to sound cool...or if it was just bad acting.

    I saw this movie WITH a gay friend of mine last night and we both thought it was a cliche-ridden exercise in guys staring at each other and smiling awkwardly, supporting theories that all gay men grow up without fathers and like to dance.
     
  6. P.S. We're going to be able to maintain thoughtful sharing of perspectives without getting heated in here, right? I hope? I've been in way too many upsetting arguments lately, so I'm going to bow out if anyone gets upset or if anyone thinks that criticizing this movie is becoming too personal. :teethsmile::thumbup:
     
  7. OhTheWater

    Let it run Supporter

    If the movie was Chiron getting to know Juan and "opening up" it would be a cliche Oscar bait film. Let's actually make Juan white and have him teach Chiron lessons too!

    People dip in and out of each other's lives. Important figures vanish. Keeping his wife in the film was even too much of a cliche, IMO, but I don't think anything about the way Chi was portrayed would fit that category.
     
  8. The only point I was making was that Chiron and Juan's relationship made for a more interesting film for me than anything that happened afterwards.

    The Kevin character really frustrates me, too.
     
  9. Imo, the best scene of the movie was little Chiron sitting at the table asking Juan that series of questions.
     
  10. (I'm trying to be as spoiler free as possible, fyi)
     
  11. Nathan

    Always do the right thing. Supporter

    Thank you! Kind words.
     
  12. OhTheWater

    Let it run Supporter

    I felt that there were scenes that were a bit unearned (I think that Kevin showing up at the beach exactly when Black was there was a bit too easy), but I think the messages and themes portrayed within the film outweigh the faults. I felt that the actors who portrayed Chiron were absolutely on point at capturing a similar vibe and essence. It's very hard to have continuity when different actors play the same character, hell the kid in Boyhood changes and it's the same person, but I truly believed I was watching the same character throughout the film.

    I think trying to boil Chi down into a character who "never says anything ever" is far too simplistic for everything that we know about him. He's a kid who never had a voice, never had an outlet. Who would he speak to? The mirror imagery of Little at the table with Juan and Chiron at the table with Kevin at the end of the film was masterful. He's the same insecure kid, having to have conversation pulled out of him, not really trusting anyone.
     
  13. Nathan

    Always do the right thing. Supporter

    I'll preface this response with: it's okay to not like a film, even one that's universally acclaimed, and disagreements about a movie are not personal digs, as I saw you seemed worried about upsetting arguments.

    Staging like that isn't always meant to feel organic or real, it's a moment of introspection for the character and audience alike, where we can search for what's behind those stares. For me, in film, inauthenticity isn't about something seeming realistic or understandable in a real-world context, it's more about the authenticity of the moment in terms of emotion, thematics, and character. In that case, almost the entirety of Moonlight felt authentic to me.

    Chiron is a passive character. I agree that sometimes that can be annoying, but in this case it came from a dramatized place. Chiron doesn't say anything, doesn't reach out to anyone, because he feels alone and like there's no one who can help or understand him. It's what makes the final shot of him and Kevin so stunning and beautiful, it's a small step, but he has a companion, a bond with someone, and he's trusting it even after all the pain and abandonment he's been through. He is withdrawn and quiet, and a lot of people are like that. It makes the film come alive all the more when he does express himself, hesitantly leaning in to kiss Kevin on the beach, breaking a chair over the back of his tormentor.

    As for the performances, I can promise you, even if some lines felt off for you, it wasn't bad acting. The three actors who make up the whole performance of Chiron were astounding. Acting is more than line readings, and while I don't feel the same as you did in terms of there being "laughable" dialogue, if a line feels off that's more on the writing. Acting is dialogue, yes, but it is physicality. It is a performer becoming the whole of a character. Alex Hibbert with his elbows on the table, palms under his chin, eyes cast permanently downward, that's acting. His silence makes his asking Juan what a ***got is all the more poignant, it makes his asking Juan if he sells drugs, if he sells his mother drugs, all the more shattering, because we know he holds in so much and speaks so seldomly. Same goes for the pain behind Ashton Sanders eyes, the way his jaw clenches when he endures another interaction with his mother or his bully, the way he fumbles with how to interact with Kevin. Silent for much of it, yes, but that is acting too, a side of performance that goes unnoticed by many in favor of recognizing emotional monologues. Rhodes might have my favorite performance in the film. He looks so different from the previous two actors who played Chiron, but he finds an awkwardness, a soulful searching of himself and what to do when he's reunited with Kevin. The way he watches Kevin in the diner is absolutely incredible. The way he interacts with what he sees around Kevin's apartment. In any movie, even if you find a line reading awkward in a performance, look for what else the performer is doing.

    I'm... not sure what to say to this. The film is, I think, inarguably far richer than that statement. I think to focus so singularly on the gay aspect of Chiron's identity is reductive and ignores the intersection of race, and how informed he is by both those things, as well as the entirety of his experience. It paints the movie as a "gay" movie, or an "issues" movie, and I think that does it a disservice and misses how human and earned so much of what happened is.

    All that said, whatever disconnects you felt, you felt. You're welcome to feel the way you do, and I hope you continue to search Moonlight for what it might be trying to do that maybe you didn't appreciate coming out of your first viewing. Maybe you'll grow to understand it more, maybe you'll continue to find it just didn't land for you. As long as you give it a fair shot and engage with it as it engages with you. All the best.
     
  14. I definitely didn't hate everything about the film, and I certainly agree that all three actors did a wonderful job portraying the same character.

    I didn't pick up on the "mirror imagery" as you say it. I'd have to think a little harder about whether I buy how intentional it was and whether we're supposed to see similarities there between Juan's and Kevin's interactions with Chiron, but I certainly see your point.
     
  15. Wait a second...are you the one writing these movie reviews for Chorus?
     
  16. Nathan

    Always do the right thing. Supporter

    I wrote this one and Certain Women, and absolutely hope to write more.
     
    Chase Tremaine likes this.
  17. Spenny

    Regular

    Fantastic review, it was a great read and I completely agree with the sentiment. I hope this sweeps up some trophies at the Oscars this year, because it is definitely my favourite movie I've seen this year by far.

    Though I do plan on seeing Manchester by the Sea later this week, and that's been getting a lot of hype. Also really want to see Hidden Figures and Jackie.
     
    Chase Tremaine likes this.
  18. ConArdist

    Subgenres Should Die

    I've read so many reviews already, I'll read it later. Saw it w/ my dad a couple months back. I wouldn't say I enjoyed it as much as it was a revelation, something never before put on screen. My gay friend also struggles w/ his masculinity and what it means. Also, brilliant soundtrack w/ chopped and screwed sounds. La La Land should and will sweep awards season, but this is a damn good movie. Adore the final scene.
     
  19. ConArdist

    Subgenres Should Die

    I would be cheering for it any other awards season, but La La Land is the most thrilling thing I've seen in ages.
     
    Chase Tremaine likes this.
  20. ConArdist

    Subgenres Should Die

    Made me mad that Janelle Monae is credited so high up and is in the film for...45 seconds? Naomie Harris was scary good. They put Monae's name up there to get attention. Anyone seen Southside With You? Another great movie about being black. And of course Fruitvale Station. Moonlight reminded me of the latter.
     
  21. Serh

    @TiredOfSeth Prestigious

    Yep, this was an awesome read. I just saw the movie today, and I think you captured just why this movie's the achievement that it is, @Nathan
     
  22. Nathan

    Always do the right thing. Supporter

    Thank you!
     
  23. Spenny

    Regular

    Definitely want to see that. Hopefully it will play in Vancouver soon (the December 16th release isn't a wide release, right?)
     
    ConArdist likes this.
  24. ConArdist

    Subgenres Should Die

    Yep. I can't find select cities, outside of LA. Grrr
     
    Spenny likes this.
  25. Spenny

    Regular

    Usually these movies come to our Fifth Avenue Cinemas a week or two after their limited release, so hopefully that's the case here (that happened with Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea at least).