“Who is you?”
Through three distinct views into Chiron’s life – as a boy, an adolescent, and a man – Moonlight expertly unravels this simple question, but, importantly, does not presume it is capable of providing a satisfactory answer. Technically – in its directing, cinematography, screenplay, et cetera – Moonlight is a gem, hitting all the right beats and displaying scenes in interesting and unexpected ways. However, the spirit of the piece and the approach with which it delivers that spirit is where it’s true value lies. It does not shy away from difficult experiences and intersectional themes, but rather abstractly puts them all on the table and forces the viewer to string them together. What results is a moving, reflective, and modern exploration of identity and all its aspects.
It is pretty undeniable at this point that modern cinema is lacking representation and diversity of storytelling, however Moonlight is a big step in the right direction. Chiron is all kinds of diverse: for starters, he’s Black, he’s poor, and he’s unsure of his sexuality. Throughout the film, we see snapshots of this young man’s daily life, as he learns to swim, has his first kiss, and shares meals with those close to him. In many ways, you can think of Moonlight as “Boyhood: without all that straight white privilege”. Like Boyhood, this film’s weight is carried in its small, simple moments. It is in the sidelong glances and begrudging smiles that we are provided glimpses into what lies behind Chiron’s soft, often silent eyes.
I can’t say I share many of Chiron’s experiences, but I can certainly relate to most of them. That which I can speak to most is his self-discovery of gender and sexuality. Moonlight handles this young boy’s questioning with a rare honesty, where there exists no specific realization nor reveal, no punch line, and certainly no stereotypes that often bog down representations of young LGBTQ+ people. This, like other elements of Chiron’s development, feel natural and unforced, and most importantly are presented without judgement. One beautiful scene stands out, in which young Chiron asks someone what the ‘other’ F word means, and the response is exactly what he – and viewers – needed to hear.
A review of Moonlight would be incomplete without giving credit to the three actors who play Chiron: Alex Hibbert (‘Little’), Ashton Sanders (‘Chiron’), and Trevante Rhodes (‘Black’). The seamlessness with which these actors portray the same character at various ages is nothing short of beautiful, leading to little or nearly no adjustment period between chapters. Ultimately, they each carry a unique vitality and authenticity that draws you in and grounds this complex character.
All that being said, I must say Moonlight didn’t give me the emotional payout I hoped for. I was so very invested in the uniqueness and originality of Chiron’s story. I wanted desperately for him to find peace and finally be able to answer the question, “Who is you?” But whether he was able to or not was ultimately unclear. So yes, I did leave Moonlight feeling unfulfilled from Chiron’s story. But maybe that’s exactly how he – a gay, Black, poor, single-mothered, drug dealing ex-convict – felt about life itself.