Moonlight was the winner of the Best Picture Academy Award 2016 but will it be remembered for its cinematic prowess or its starring role in one of the Oscars’ biggest ever gaffes? Because let’s be honest – it was a clanger.
To answer my own question, it is a film that should be remembered for all the right reasons – as a melancholic, beautifully shot drama worthy of the highest accolades.
Apparently, this was a low budget creation and it is definitely not replete with Hollywood A-Listers, but financial constraints did not translate into artistic ones, at least not to my untrained eye.
Moonlight tells a story. It tells it subtly. It tells it slowly. It tells it poignantly. If none of this appeals then you are at the wrong movie, and I would imagine lots of people felt they may have taken a wrong turn somewhere on their way to their seat. Because unusually, this is a tale of drug dealing in “the hood” with minimal violence and zero gun shots. My husband seemed both shocked and a little disappointed by this, but I think the lack of gratuitous violence was part of the magic.
Moonlight is a story of addiction, prostitution, drug-dealing, bullying and homophobia, and yet it is not moralistic in tone. It portrays a cycle of poverty and ignorance and in so many ways each and every character is a victim. Due to a lightness of touch and a genuine sensitivity, this becomes a story not of heroes and villains but of human beings. Humans who are often deeply flawed but who have lived lives without hope, privilege or advantage. Bad starts leading to bleak futures!
Mostly, Moonlight is a coming-of-age narrative. It tells the story of Chiron, first as a nine year old with more battles than any child should have to face, essentially raising himself in a community ravaged by crack-cocaine. Chiron is a child who stands out when all he wants to do is fit in. He is a miserable child trapped in a miserable world that seems actively trying to reject him.
Chiron’s teens, perhaps predictably, are a battle. A high-school battle against bullies, as the awkward young man struggles with his sexuality, and a personal battle with his mother who had long since abdicated her maternal role. This was a movie that could so easily have become a cliché – Chiron could have made defence a form of attack by fighting back both literally and metaphorically. Or he could have received some fairy tale passage out of the world of his birth and on to pastures greener. But Chiron is not a cliché and he does not try to conform or even seem to aspire to his society’s one-dimensional view of masculinity. Nor, however, has he the courage or self-belief to be proud of his individuality and to step away from his social world. He is quiet, awkward and perpetually unsure of who he is or what he wants to be, and it is the depiction of this non-stereotypical boy (and later man) that is where the movie shines brightest.
Chiron is the central protagonist, who doesn’t say much. His uncertainty, his pain and even his joy, is communicated in other ways. Facial expression and body language are central to the creation of his character and three different actors combine seamlessly to portray one credible person. From Chiron the boy to Chiron the man, their performances combine to create something moving, nuanced and at times heartbreaking. But this is not a sad story either and there are wonderful, wonderful glimpses of humanity, compassion and love. Moonlight is just a very real story and one that deserved to be told.
If you haven’t guessed by now- I loved it, although I imagine not everybody will. Some may think it too slow, too silent or too ambiguous. Others will see it as both breathtaking and believable. If you missed it in theatres, Amazon Prime will be airing it soon so if haven’t already seen it, do yourself a favour and give it a chance. Make up your own mind on this one xo