3 Stars – Thought Provoking
Moonlight is a tough film to watch. It isn’t just the “R” rated rawness of life in the streets of Miami, or the psychological brutality of growing up with a drug addict single mother and never experiencing love from anyone in your life. Based on a story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, we witness three periods in the life of Chiron, a young black man who is humiliated and brutalized both at home and on the streets.
We witness three periods in Chiron’s life as a young boy, then as a teenager, and finally as a young man. Shy, small, and withdrawn, at age 9 Chiron (Alex Hibbert) is bullied by his peers and called names he doesn’t fully appreciate or understand. The only affection and guidance Chiron experiences comes from Juan (Mahershala Ali), a neighborhood drug dealer and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe), as well as from his Cuban-American classmate Kevin (Jaden Piner [age 9]; Jharrel Jerome ; André Holland [early 20’s]). In this painful period of the wounding of his soul, Chiron barely speaks nor knows what love feels like.
At age 16, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) still is at a point in his life where others can easily bully him. Although there is a smoldering rage inside him, his outward demeanor has remained painfully shy and he is subject to beatings and name calling. The only person who sees beyond the surface is his friend Kevin, who himself is exploring his own teenage identity and sexuality which ranges from gang-banging young women to homosexuality. It is here where Chiron experiences his first and only sexual attraction from the only person who ever expressed any love for him in any form.
Chiron’s life with his mother Paula (Naomie Harris) is a blend of complete emotional abandonment, preoccupation with her drug addiction and need for sex - which she does without any filters even in the presence of her own son. In many ways, your heart goes out to this young man as you realize he has hardly any chance of surviving into adulthood without severe emotional damage. It is a small wonder that you begin to believe that the local drug dealer may be the only hope for a role model in this young man’s life.
Much of the hype about this low-budget film which won the Best Picture Oscar for 2017 is that it highlights the life of a LGBT young man. This part of Chiron’s life is highlighted most vividly when as a young man in his 20’s (played by Trevante Rhodes) he emerges as a large muscular handsome guy who is big enough and strong enough to overwhelm any bullies that crossed his path. Still shy, the story takes us to Atlanta where he reconnects with his childhood friend Kevin. Without much comment, the film concludes with these two bonding with love and affection, recognizing that this is the only relationship in his entire life where he has experienced any emotional connection at all.
To judge this film on the issue of sexuality alone is to miss the greater story. The story of a lost young man who somehow survives to adulthood in this circumstance is a miracle, and the fact that he maintains an inner nature that is not filled with rage is a small wonder. There may not be any transformational happy ending to this story, but your heart does go out to this young man who has suffered greatly. It is glimpse of hope being restored in a hopeless place.
- The blend of abuse Chiron experienced as a child is destructive at every level. How are you getting involved in helping children who are in such homes? Is the answer found in governmental action, church or non-profit compassion, individual rescuing? All of these and more? Why do you answer as you do.?
- The prevalence of bullying among children is said to be frequent with over 55% of high school students experiencing it. How do we change children and culture?
- The raw authenticity of this film is perhaps why it won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2017. What do you see in this film that enriches the genre of film?