James Canellos ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Movies Editor
The quest for self identity may be the hardest journey anyone will have to take. It becomes all the more difficult when the factors of your environment and the people you’re surrounded by decide to take your identity and give unwanted labels. Moonlight soars in chronicling the snapshots of Chiron, a man who has spent his life trying to disassociate himself from the names given to him. By doing this he must first come to terms with his identity as a gay man, as a black man and as a man. Through this search for self acceptance, writer/ director Barry Jenkins crafts one of the most intimate and poetic character studies put on screen in recent memory.
Like 2014’s Boyhood, Moonlight focuses on the small and crucial moments of its leading man’s life and nit picks what shapes him into the man he is by the time the credits roll. The comparison of these two films ends there, as a three act structure splits up the different stages of Chiron’s identity crisis. “Little”, “Chiron” and “Black” are the three chapters that round up this man’s life and each has a very different actor playing the role.
Little’s section begins Chiron’s tale as a skinny ten-year-old boy (Alex R. Hibbert) hiding from bullies in a condemned motel room to be found by the gentle drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali). The second chapter follows Chiron (Ashton Sanders) through adolescence as he still can’t avoid an easy target, but comes to admire his charming classmate (Jharrel Jerome). The final chapter shows Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) in the body of a muscle bound, grill toothed drug dealer, with the same lost eyes searching for someone to accept him before he can do the same for himself.
Having three physically different actors playing the same character doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. Yet, Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes work beautifully off each other, passing on the baton of Chiron’s life gracefully and complimenting each other’s contributions in the process. Although Sanders gives a particularly amazing and restrained showcase as he bridges Chiron’s childhood and adulthood. This story remains riveting and the characters Chiron grows up with add their own stages of regret as he matures.
Juan may be the fairy godfather of drug dealers as he provides the loving father-like relationship that Chiron desperately needed. Chiron’s on adult figure prior was living with his drug addicted mother (Naomie Harris) who puts her addiction before her son. Ali gives a brilliantly low-key performance, never making Juan overly sympathetic while utilizing the irony of him feeding the drug habits of Chiron’s mother. The scene where young Chiron turns a question about a homophobic term and uses it to practically ruin Juan’s moral standing will break your heart.
Jenkins may be showing the evolution of a scared boy to a tough man, but he never forgets the reasoning for Chiron’s persona throughout each chapter. As Chiron ends chapter two with an intense walk through his high school doors, you can’t help but see him leaving behind the Chiron we’ve come to know. By examining what everyone else considers to be masculine and how Chiron tries to create this image, Jenkins paints a tragic story of a man constantly wearing a disguise. Behind older Chiron’s muscles and silver teeth is someone who wants the acceptance that his younger counterparts have always wanted. Thanks to Jenkins sensitive direction, Moonlight is the year’s most personal story that is as romantic as stroll under a beaming full moon.
Overall Grade: A
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