‘Moonlight’—Beautiful and heartbreaking

Lapacazo Sandoval | 10/27/2016, 11:47 a.m.
“Moonlight” is based on the story “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” by MacArthur genius grant recipient, playwright Tarell Alvin ...
Scenes from 'Moonlight' Contributed

“Moonlight” is based on the story “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” by MacArthur genius grant recipient, playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney.

Under the sturdy and sophisticated hands of director Barry Jenkins, who also penned the screenplay, on the surface, a film about growing up poor, Black and gay has become much, much more.

“Moonlight” is the deep reaching and heartbreaking story of a young man’s struggle to find and love himself, and it’s told in three chapters that examine his experiences, which are the pain and beauty of falling in love while questioning his own sexuality.

The film also touches upon the dark side of life, which includes drug abuse, mass incarceration, school violence and the ugliest side of bullying. Those facts could be very misleading because at its heart, “Moonlight” is about the journey of discovering love—love of oneself, love of human kind and the love of a man for a man, which is described as a “homosexual” act, accepted by some but condemned by many.

Anchored by gut wrenching performances by the entire cast, the voice of McCraney and the vision of Jenkins make this groundbreaking exploration of masculinity on film a truer representation of the impact of first love—the one that never vacates our memory,

not even for a second.

The three chapters that chronicle the life of Chiron are first played by the young boy, Alex Hibbert, and then, as an adolescent, by Ashton Sanders and finally, as a grown man, by the very fine Trevante Rhodes.

As we watch Chiron/Little’s journey from a bullied child to a silent adult now nicknamed Black, we get a firsthand look at what it means, to him, to be a Black man in America. You ask yourself just what value is tenderness and can it exist hand-in-hand with the world he’s living in?

You ask yourself, if I were living inside Liberty City, would I choose the road marked cruel as well? Kindness, from that vantage point, seems to get devoured.

We first encounter him running for his life, or so it feels, from a bunch of kids no older than he, but he’s a bit smaller. That fact earns him the nickname Little, which labels him, again, as vulnerable and easy prey.

His adolescence is filled with questions that his crack-addicted mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), can’t answer. The business side of drugs, inside his Miami housing project, is controlled by Juan (Mahershala Ali), an Afro-Cuban who becomes a kind of surrogate parent for Chiron, along with his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monáe).

This “makeshift” family provides him with a domestic stability and a safe haven. It occurs later to Chiron that his mother’s drugs are purchased from the very person who’s saving and shaping him. Watching him formulate this fact is a pivotal point of the duality of his life and foreshadows his future.

Romance is complicated and Chiron’s friendship with Kevin (who grows from Jaden Piner to Jharrel Jerome to André Holland) shows a spectrum of camaraderie, trust and betrayal that’s bitter-sweet. Life goes on with death, crime, violence and incarceration breezing in and out, like the air we breathe.

“Moonlight” is awash with both beauty and dignity. I know many of these people, and I suspect most African-Americans do as well.

There are no white people in important roles in “Moonlight” that I can recall. So, I felt at home and having spent long, hot summers in Florida, and the city of Miami, I am confident that he got the hot tone just right.

“Moonlight’s” music is a mix of hip-hop, R&B and classical selections that compliment Nicholas Britell’s lush score. Director of photography James Laxton is a revelation.

To some critics “Moonlight” might feel slow. It’s not. The film is filled with sensual camera movements to help us all appreciate the weight of the final act—a virtuosic piece of filmmaking that seduces the viewer to watch the film over and over again.