Moonlight is a masterpiece. It’s the most powerful film I have seen in recent years, exploring themes of identity, sexuality, and power as it chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood. It far surpasses attempts to tell a similar tale, such as Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’, by displaying the difficulties and pressures experienced in these times through incredibly nuanced and perfectly acted relationships and dialogue. The film is separated into three acts, childhood, adolescence and adulthood, with the protagonist Chiron being portrayed flawlessly by three different actors. This doesn’t feel like a movie. It feels like a snapshot into someone’s life that has left me thinking about it every minute since I left the theatre almost a week ago.
Barry Jenkins has crafted an absolute masterpiece. Every shot, every song, every piece of dialogue is carefully constructed and placed to create a stunning profile of life as a young African American. As mentioned before, the story is separated into three acts, but the way in which the acts interact with each other makes the film so profound and moving. The final scene of each act deals with a theme or topic that directly correlates with the major theme of the following act. It shows how even the small moments in people lives can be monumental in ultimately deciding who they become. This culminates in a final act that encompasses all these themes, allowing us to reflect back on the life that Chiron now leads.
At the heart of the three acts is the ongoing relationship between Chiron and his closest friend Kevin. What makes their relationship so captivating is how much the dynamics and tone change between them across the three acts. This isn’t a relationship that builds stronger and stronger, it reverts and sometimes moves in completely different directions. It’s painfully delightful to see how this incredibly true to life relationship transpires.
After last year’s media blitz about the Oscars being too white, Moonlight shines as an example of why Hollywood needs to give more opportunities to minorities. There are no white people in Moonlight. Not one. Yet it stands out, much like ‘The Godfather’, for not having a single weak performance. Every secondary character that we see grow with Chiron is perfectly portrayed in every single act. The dialogue and character work are so moving that I was left in tears at the end of the first act as Chiron asks some all too real questions about himself and the world he has been brought up in.
Characters can sometimes disappear between acts, yet you still get a sense that you know what’s happened. Jenkins has built this fictional world so perfectly that you can find, and feel, the emotional beats of the movie that aren’t even shown. From that, you develop this greater, richer understanding of Chiron to a level that makes you feel like you’ve seen his life unfold over tens of hours, not just two.
Naomie Harris gives a deeply emotive range of performances as Chiron’s mother. Her battle with addiction is explored on every level with no corners cut. We see the absolute highs and the abysmal lows that, despite how horrible they are to behold, are truly mesmerising. Mahershala Ali also gives a masterclass performance as Juan, giving Chiron the much-needed support throughout his troubled upbringing.
Moonlight is one of those films you can try and tell someone about, but the words aren’t there. The way the film doesn’t even need words to send shivers down your spine perfectly demonstrates the powerful nature of the performances within it. It’s something that truly needs to be seen to be believed and if you are going to see any movie coming out over the next few weeks, make it this one.