Moonlight is a film full of mesmerizing mystery. As it slowly searches through a young man’s conflicted heart, it creates a moment-to-moment feeling of discovery. It leaves you with a sense of pure wonder.
The film is a sprawling yet intimate urban epic. Based on an unproduced play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, it follows a young Black man as he grapples with homosexuality and growing up on the drug-drenched streets of Miami. We see Chiron as a painfully quiet boy (Alex Hibbert), a troubled teenager (Ashton Sanders) and a hardened drug dealer (Trevante Rhodes).
Writer-director Barry Jenkins maintains a masterful slow-burn pace as he digs under the bloodstained surface of Chiron’s world to reveal the desperation and aching beauty beneath. James Laxton’s cinematography captures the majesty amid the crumbling setting. And Nicholas Britell’s score looms over the film like the ghosts of Chiron’s past. Like the otherworldly glow to which the title refers, it’s eerily beautiful.
We live in a world that’s largely more open to homosexuality. Yet here is Chiron, hiding behind intimidating muscles and sharp gold teeth. He powerfully embodies the timeless challenge of opening up one’s identity to the world. Rhodes perfectly captures the crippling weight of Chiron’s past. He makes his pain our own as he talks to his estranged mother (Naomie Harris) and reconnects with his high school friend (André Holland) — the first person to ever make him feel comfortable with his sexual identity.
Moonlight radiates with you-are-there immediacy, putting us in Chiron’s skin as he struggles to break out of his shell. It’s an intensely relevant film — a shattering reflection of today’s world. It’s harrowing yet hopeful, making us wince and marvel at the spectacle of raw humanity.
In 2016, we have a president-elect who’s endorsed by the KKK — and a vice president who’s openly homophobic. But we also have films like Moonlight — films that aim to make us look past privilege and the haze of hate and intolerance surrounding society. At its best, cinema can take ideology off the table and replace it with a slice of raw reality. As Roger Ebert wrote, a great movie “shakes us and gives us the impression of having touched life itself.” And like life, “the movies are a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.” Moonlight is a cinematic journey you won’t forget.