In one of the stand-out moments of Moonlight there is a defining conversation that takes place between two characters. Having spent a decade apart, Kevin (André Holland), looks inquisitively upon his long-lost friend Chiron and asks “Who is you?” Chiron (Trevante Rhodes), replies unconvincingly with “I’m me”. This brief exchange encapsulates the theme of Moonlight; an exploration of one’s life long search to find their true self. Moonlight chronicles Chiron’s evolution by splitting his life story into three distinct chapters.
Each chapter heading refers to a different name given to the film’s central protagonist. In the first chapter, a nine year old Chiron is derogatorily referred to as “Little” by his schoolmates. His lack of friends and exclusion for being different define the early stages of his life. With a drug addicted mother, Chiron finds an unlikely father figure in Mahershala Ali’s Juan. Despite being a drug dealer, Juan cares more for Chiron’s well-being than his mother Paula. He imparts critical wisdom upon Chiron stating “You got to decide for yourself who you’re going to be” which harks back to the film’s central message of self-discovery. Ali is magnetic as Juan and creates a vivid and complex character with minimal screen-time; one who has to come to grips with his own survival causing the destruction of others. Moonlight is intent on breaking down stereotypes and conveying a truth seldom found in film.
The second chapter hurdles seven years forward, and the bullying inflicted on Chiron has infinitely worsened. The title ‘Chiron’ illustrates Chiron’s desire to be who he really is and to not have to suppress his basic desires. Life at home has also deteriorated, as Paula’s cocaine fuelled descent is harrowingly brought to life by an excellent Naomie Harris. Moonlight is based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue but for director Barry Jenkins, whose own mother was a crack addict, Paula’s arc resembles a highly personal struggle.
The closing chapter sees Chiron ten years later; his muscular growth has changed him into a hulking figure of quiet intimidation, thus challenging the preconceived notions of masculinity. In order to be accepted, Chiron has learnt he must adapt to fit the exterior world. Now going by the name ‘Black’, echoing a nickname given to Chiron by Kevin, their reunion and rediscovery is where Moonlight truly excels. This is due to the emotional intimacy and resonance brought to the film by Holland and Rhodes. Holland conveys a confident charm to Kevin while also suggesting the weariness of a man who has made many mistakes. Rhodes is the third actor to portray Chiron in succession and what he accomplishes with half the dialogue of his co-stars is phenomenal. Despite a dramatic off screen transformation, his subtle expressions enable the audience to still see the ‘Little’ boy in the depths of his eyes.
Moonlight is a beautiful film to behold, as Jenkins bathes the film with stunning imagery. Miami itself feels like a character, coming to life at night, drenched in neon and with an ethereal quality thanks to the titular moonlight. The film further creates its own signature style with an eclectically diverse soundtrack; ranging from orchestral pieces to modern hip-hop. As a delicately understated and compassionate portrayal of homosexuality within the African-American community; Moonlight illuminates a subject matter rarely seen on screen. There is no doubt this is a film for the LGBT community and a film for the black community. However Moonlight will also resonate with anyone who has had a past love linger in their memories and throughout their life, which truthfully makes Moonlight a film for everyone.