“At some point you gotta decide for yourself who you gonna be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you”- Juan.
This quote from Barry Jenkin's Moonlight (2016) had struck me recently. In 2017 the film received Oscar for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, as well as in other categories. It's no surprise that this work of art has earned so many awards, given the brilliance of the direction, screenplay, casting and cinematography. It was also notable for having an entirely African-American cast and it is an adaptation from a play called In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney.
Society has a big influence on our choices as they expect us to live up to certain societal standards. But how long can one live being part of that society?
Set in Miami, Moonlight depicts three major stages in the life of an African-American boy Chiron. The story brings attention to the problems of gay men who are struggling with their sexuality and identity, particularly in patriarchal societies. It portrays the central themes of self-discovery, love, sexuality, helplessness, masculinity and so on.
The first chapter depicts young Chiron, played by Alex R. Hibert, who had a horrible childhood. He is bullied by boys of his age, is nicknamed "Little," and is raised by his drug addict mother Paula (Naomie Harris). However, Kevin (Jaden Piner), his friend, trains him how to be the strong guy.
Chiron meets Juan (Mahershala Ali), a renowned drug dealer, when he is chased by a group of boys. He refuses to speak to both Juan and his wife Teresa (Janelle Monae) as it is his only defence and weakness in fighting back against the society in which he lives.
Juan appears to him as a father figure, and the moments between the two sheds light on many aspects of life. Chiron spends time with him until he discovers that he is the drug dealer who supplies his mother with drugs.
The second half follows Chiron (now played by Ashton Sanders), a teenager who is still trying to fit in and is bullied by his classmate Terrel (Patrick Decile). He finds refuge at Teresa’s when he felt like he belonged nowhere.
Things take a toll on him as his mother develops serious addiction and he falls in love with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). Chiron longed to be loved and accepted by someone, as seen by the intimate scene with Kevin. Following the events, Chiron is arrested by the police as he seeks vengeance on Terrel for beating him up in front of his classmates.
The third and final part shows adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes), now known as Black, who has become a prominent drug dealer after leaving Miami. Chiron's appearance too has evolved to one that fits to society's expectations. His mother, who is currently undergoing rehabilitation, wants to see her son as she misses him. He makes the decision to meet his mother and Kevin, now a cook (played by Andre Howard). Following his interaction with Kevin, Chiron is confronted with a choice: to accept who he is or accept what society wants him to be.
One of the notable features in the film is its cinematography.
For instance, the camera smoothly pans between Juan and his assistant in the beginning of the video. Despite being a drug dealer, this reflects his calm nature. When Little Chiron appears later, the shots are shaky to portray the character's inner agony and insecurities.
Door shots reveal a lot about what he's going through as well. One could be a refuge, while the other may mean doom. In most of the shots, the camera is placed between Chiron and the other characters. The director's sensitivity sees him capture as to how essential it is to be acknowledged as an individual.
Water and breeze
Water is seen as a sign of re-birth in the film. As Chiron has his first swimming lessons with Juan, the camera is partially submerged in water. It gives a feeling of floating along with Chiron. Similar shots of significance of water is shown in the other two chapters.
Breeze is something that has to be felt and it aids you in becoming who you truly are. The sound of the breeze is initially heard at the scene on the beach while he and Juan are talking. Secondly, when Juan had his intimate moment with Kevin, a recurring view of the water is presented. The breeze can also be heard here. Finally, it is heard at the end of the film when Chiron confesses his love for Kevin.
Music and use of colour
Moonlight's music ranges from Nicholas Britell's song to songs by Goodie Mob and Barbara Lewis, although each piece musically fits into each character in the film.
The film indeed is a visual treat to the viewers as it uses light shades of blue, pink, and purple colours. The character's insanity or instability is symbolised through mismatched colour schemes. To be precise, the colours depict the character's journey.
These are few things that one notices apart from the plot of the film. Like how moonlight symbolises one's actual self, the entire film has been about Chiron's search for identity, hidden desires and the choices he makes. When all of the small details are taken into account, the film becomes truly exceptional.
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