Socially important and stylistically flawless, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is a beautiful film inside and out. Far more than a worthwhile message about LGBT visibility wrapped in a pretty package, Moonlight is a fully realized three-dimensional look at the evolution of a person from child to adult —changes that seem gradual are often direct threads visible to everyone but ourselves. This universal theme, specifically the lead character’s journey, is a significant social and artistic breakthrough for representation, both in front of and behind the camera.
R, 111 minutes
Violet Crown Cinema
Moonlight follows the life of Chiron, aka Little and Black, at three stages in his life: as a bullied child, an awkward teenager and the adult he becomes as a result of his formative years. Everyone knows he is different—his single mother, his classmates, his best friend, his adoptive mother and father figures, even himself. He is never fully “out” for some time, perhaps not even fully aware of what his feelings are, but he knows that something about him is worth protecting. Individual moments in Chiron’s life influence events far in the future, and the audience is there to witness it as both observer and participant.
Chiron is played by three different actors: as a child nicknamed Little (Alex Hibbert), as an adolescent going by his given name (Ashton Sanders) and as an adult who goes by Black (Trevante Rhodes). When we first meet Chiron he is running away from high school bullies, hiding out in an abandoned hotel used primarily for drugs. He is discovered there by Juan (Mahershala Ali), a dealer who tries to learn his name by showing sympathy, feeding him and finally taking him in. At home, Juan and his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monáe), get him to open up and take him home, only to discover him back on their front porch, and the relationship becomes a form of mentorship. Juan becomes the most prominent male role model in Chiron’s life and is the first person who tells him that it’s okay to be gay but not to let people call him a faggot. Where the story goes from here is best left unspoiled, but it is fascinating to watch all of the characters for most of their lives, whether it’s his best friend Kevin or his main tormentor at school.
Writer-director Jenkins’ use of silence and pauses is remarkable. These are not mere dramatic pauses; in the same way we watch a human grow up in Moonlight, so do we watch ideas take root and emotions evolve in real time. He could have tackled the subject with the eye of a gritty realist and the message would still be potent, but he is concerned as much with the cyclical tragedy of poverty and drug addiction as with the human soul and how it is shaped by the outside world. Both as a work of art and a social statement, Moonlight is required viewing. It is easily one of the best films of 2016 and the most quietly powerful film in recent memory.
Playing this week
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
The Accountant, Almost Christmas, Arrival, Boo! A Madea Halloween, Dr. Strange, The Girl on the Train, Hacksaw Ridge, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Shut In, Trolls
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
Arrival, Dr. Strange, The Girl on the Train, Hacksaw Ridge, Inferno, Tower, Trolls