Drugs, race, homophobia. These are all powerful topics to approach in a film separately, let alone together. Is it ambition and bravery, of stupidity and foolishness? Let’s look to Moonlight to see.
One man’s life contains many stories; far too many to easily include in a two hour screenplay. That being said, Moonlight provides the cliff notes for its protagonist's journey from childhood to adult hood, with a pit-stop at the teenage years for good measure. Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert) is a young boy, bullied and excluded by the bigger boys at school. His mother (Naomi Harris) has fallen victim to a drug habit leaving Chiron to often fend for himself. However a drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe) take him in when his home is not friendly, and treat him right. As Chiron (now Ashton Sanders) grows up, the bullying gets more severe, his sexuality and friendships become more confusing, and his life seems to spiral out of control. Eventually, we get to see where all of this gets him in the third act of the film.
Structured into three acts - Little, Chiron, and Black - Moonlight cleverly manages to essentially sew three shorts together to create a modern masterpiece. It doesn't have to show immediate relationship between actions and consequences, instead allowing them to play out over a lifetime giving the film a punchy pace, with nothing feeling unexplained or out of place. It also allows the film to build to multiple climaxes, one within each act, the most striking of which is in the middle episode - everything before builds to this point, everything after is a result of it. Director Barry Jenkins bombards the audience with visual information and it is glorious; it makes the film beautiful to watch as well providing extra detail about what is happening.
Moonlight is a brilliantly and beautifully told story. It is proof that a film’s topic doesn’t have to be big and grand or based on some incredible story; a simple story told well is more powerful than powerful story executed poorly.