Moonlight: A Review

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Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, tells the story of a young, gay black man, Chiron, growing up in Miami and his attempt to find himself despite lifelong obstacles. The stunning film highlights Chiron’s story in three snapshots (played by Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes), each one representing distinct parts of his life and identity. Whether it’s the cinematography, script, acting, direction, or musical score, every aspect of the film enhances the intimacy, honesty, and poignancy of its cultural relevance.

The story begins in Chiron’s childhood when the neighborhood drug dealer-turned-mentor, Juan (Mahershala Ali), commences Chiron’s quest to find himself and his place in the world. Juan and his partner, Teresa (Janelle Monáe), become the support that Chiron can turn to, since his mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), and her crack addiction make living at home miserable. From a young age, Chiron struggles with bullies and his masculine identity, experiencing continual heartbreak and pain, with glimpses of momentary love. Although Moonlight explores the individual life of a black man as he grapples with his sexuality and masculinity, its message masterfully connects with every viewer.

Amazingly, the film speaks loudest when Chiron says nothing at all. Through the work of exquisite direction, Chiron’s reservation and silence continually reveal his deepest pain, and speak to the alienation and betrayal that one feels as an outcast of community. Coupled with a heartbreakingly beautiful musical score, some of the most moving shots occur without dialogue. In addition to the non-speaking elements, the lighting design is a beautiful and impactful component of the film. The deliberate use of lighting enhances striking moments in the film, distinguishing the protagonist’s lightest memories from his darkest. Light is also brilliantly used to contrast the three distinct chronological parts of the story, subtly cuing the viewer that the preceding chapter has passed with a flicker.

Naomie Harris in Moonlight

Aside from the production design, this story would not have been as luminous without the remarkable performances by every actor. Mahershala Ali deservingly won an Oscar for his radiant performance as Best Supporting Actor, and Naomie Harris received a Best Supporting Actress nomination. The cast and crew collected numerous nominations at both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards.

Mahershala Ali and Alex R. Hibbert in Moonlight

In a shocking twist at the Academy Awards, Moonlight also won the award for Best Motion Picture of the Year. Whole-heartedly, this film deserves that title; it’s simply too culturally significant to ignore, and it’s ability to shed light on minority experiences should be commended. That being said, the film does leave an abundance of loose ends untied, which may serve to symbolize the constant uncertainty and unfulfillment of Chiron’s life. On the surface, however, it appears to be a minor nuisance in an otherwise brilliant film. Do yourself a favor and go see Moonlight, the motion picture that’s illuminating the human experience.

This film is Rated R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout.