Moonlight masterfully portrays story of self discovery


Poster Courtesy of A24

Travis Robertson, Copy Chief/Editorial Chief

Moonlight won best motion picture drama at the Golden Globes, is currently leading the awards season tally, and along with La La Land is the front runner to win best picture at the Academy Awards, yet not everybody has heard of it.

What everybody is missing out on is a masterfully told story about a young man’s life which will inspire a wide array of people that see it, and that has more than earned every award and nomination it’s received.

Moonlight is the story of a homosexual African-American man named Chiron whose life is divided into three specific periods: childhood, young adulthood and adulthood. Each period in his life contains a different actor portraying him, and in each period  he undergoes a different transformation which build on top of each other to form who Chiron is.

Chiron’s story is a story of self discovery, and self acceptance. Growing up homosexual and African-American in a Miami suburb are circumstances that will shelter a young boy to the point where he doesn’t know who he is.

Chiron starts the movie as a quiet little mysterious boy (Alex R. Hibbert). When a drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) meets and questions him, he responds with one word responses at most. In this scene the audience takes the role of Juan and Chiron at the same time, questioning who Chiron is.

More is revealed about Chiron when the audience sees his life, as he’s ridiculed by the other kids and raised by a drug-addicted mother (Naomie Harris). Chiron lacks a figure to guide him, that is until he meets Juan.

Juan is not in the movie a lot, but leaves one of the most crucial impacts on Chiron’s life and Ali gives a masterfully subdued performance. No scene of his screams “give me an award” but instead he earns the award buzz by subtly bringing Juan to life and making him his own.

Juan feels an obligation to mentor Chiron after it’s revealed he may feel some guilt for Chiron’s current state.

He leaves a footprint on Chiron’s life in a simple yet ground-breaking scene where he teaches him how to swim. This scene follows with Juan telling him to make his own path in life which is also painted by the swimming scene. The water symbolizes his life, and Chiron is instructed to stay afloat as Juan holds him up at first, but he is then capable of floating by himself.

The second act starts and Chiron is now a teenager (Ashton Sanders) who retains similar traits to his younger self. Chiron meets and bonds with a long time friend Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) and with him is lucky to receive another key figure in his life. Chiron then undergoes an emotion he’s never felt before: love.

With Chiron’s sexuality being revealed the movie explores the theme of toxic masculinity and how this preconceived notion can rob somebody of a successful and happy life. When Chiron finds love he’s given an anchor that he can grasp on, to live a happy life, but after Chiron is heartbroken by bullies at his school he doesn’t think straight. He then conforms to society’s idea of masculinity by doing something truly shocking that will change his life forever.

This sends Chiron spiraling down an unthinkable path, all because he wasn’t himself but rather conformed to the notion of toxic masculinity. Sanders portrays this transformation from a quiet innocent boy to this scary dangerous man masterfully and subtly, and the editing and cinematography in the moments before his life goes spiraling make the scene all the more intense.

In the third act Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) is a changed man because of the repercussions of his actions in act 2. Chiron is not the same person he was in the first two acts, and is faced with the decision of whether he can discover himself again and retain the glimmer of hope of a happy life he received in the middle of act 2.

Without spoiling anything, the movie ends on a soulful and bittersweet note, completing Chiron’s story with just the right amount of ambiguity.

Throughout the acts the entire ensemble cast does a masterful job of bringing their characters to life, particularly with the three actors who played Chiron. Each actor looks exactly like an older/younger version of the other two, but they also portray the precise mannerisms that bring that character to life such as the way he walks and talks.

Each act and each scene progressively builds from the previous one to encompass the entire movie’s theme of self-discovery and self-acceptance. The critical question asked near the end of the film to Chiron is “Who is you?”. Chiron changes throughout the film from somebody he is happy with being to somebody who clearly isn’t himself.

Every human being on the face of the Earth can relate to that struggle. Every human changes and is faced with a point in life when they have to decide who they are, and every human could potentially have their lives ruined if they stray away from their true selves.

This is what’s marvelous about Moonlight, and how it allows the audience to empathize with a life too rarely seen in the scope of cinema. You do not have to be African-American or Gay to sympathize with Chiron, just human.

Moonlight takes a life that hasn’t gotten the cinematic representation it deserves and allows the audience to step in their shoes as well as guide them about their own life. Everybody involved with this film are deserving of nominations, both in front of camera and behind.

America as a whole is not the most united at the moment, making Moonlight important for every American who wants to escape and appreciate the life of somebody else.

Moonlight is currently playing at Harkins Norterra 14 and AMC Deer Valley 30.