Moonlight is a beautiful film about growing up poor, Black and gay in America. It will tug at your soul and you’ll walk out of this film exhausted but impressed with its quiet strength while it delves into a world we might think we know about but we clearly don’t. It is completely deserving of its 98% Rotten Tomato score.
The film is divided into three phases of a young man’s life. The first takes place in Miami in the 1980s and portrays a young Chiron (nicknamed “Little”) as a fatherless boy who turns to the local Drug Dealer Juan (played brilliantly by Mahershala Ali) for a male father figure. Juan and his girlfriend Theresa provide a safe haven for Chiron to escape to when he can’t handle being with his mother who engages in drugs and prostitution. Chiron is constantly bullied by his classmates and even his mother calls him a “fucking faggot”. He has one friend, Kevin who helps him through the bullying he endures.
We then move to Chiron’s high school years as he tries to hide in obscurity but fails as various students continue to seek him out to bully him. His mother by now is in a hopeless condition and Chiron has given up on her completely. He also explores his sexuality in a beautifully constructed scene with his best friend Kevin as he tries to understand who he is. It is unclear as to whether Chrion really understands the impact of his sexuality in his life. In a deeply disturbing scene, the local tough guy forces Kevin to beat Chiron. In response to the brutal beating, Chiron attacks his tormentor and is taken away to prison.
The last phase explored in Chiron’s life is as a post-prison adult. He has followed his mentor into a successful drug dealing existence in Atlanta when he gets a call from his old friend Kevin in Miami – the only friend he had growing up and the one he had a crush on. Chiron decides to go back to Miami to visit his Kevin and on the way stops by a rehab facility where is mother is now living and working. She appears to be doing much better. Once he gets to Miami, the scenes are magnificent with each moment played out slowly and with deep emotion.
Moonlight is a tough film to watch and although life seems bleak for these characters, there is an inspiring scene at the end, which almost makes one believe in “love conquers all”. The acting by the six actors who play Chiron and Kevin is wonderful as is Naomie Harris as Paula. You can’t leave this film without dwelling on the hopelessness of the inner city and the impact of the never-ending spiral of poverty, drug addiction and incarceration while appreciating the fact that a couple of loving relationships may be able to enable some people to survive in a satisfying way. Moonlight is a terrific film that should be seen by all.