This is the story of a lifetime, and what a story it is.
Directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight is an honest and pure film about the complexities of growing up. It is however no ordinary coming of age tale, it’s a journey about the struggle of self discovery, identity and finding your place in the world. Moonlight is comprised of three segments titled Little, Chiron, and Black. Each piece following the development of a young boy called Chiron from boy to man at different stages of his life. Each chapter detailing the different battles that our lead character faces as he becomes an adult.
The opening chapter introduces us to Chiron as a young boy (played by Aex R. Hibbert), nicknamed Little, being chased through the streets by a group of bullies. The withdrawn Chiron is discovered by crack dealer Juan, played by the immense Mahershala Ali, who offers the boy shelter and a meal. As the chapter progresses we learn of Chiron’s troubles with his emotionally abusive mother Paula (Naomie Harris), and watch as he yearns for a doting parental figures in Juan and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe). At this point in the film Moonlight is a straight up story about the problems faced by young boys who are only beginning to understand what is happening around them. It’s a heart breaking piece to watch as Chiron is forced to grow up faster than a child should.
As the film moves into the second segment Chiron is no longer the diminutive figure he was, but still the shy and reserved personality he was teased for. As a tall lanky teen Chiron continues to be the focus of bullying, specifically from classmate Terrel. It’s in this pivotal centre piece of the film that Moonlight evolves from coming of age drama into a revealing fight for identity, as Chiron wrestles with who he is and who his tormentors claim him to be. Chiron is played superbly by newcomer Ashton Sanders in this chapter, conveying the awkward tussle with emotion and self like a seasoned actor.
The third and final piece of Moonlight’s enlightening journey fast forwards us to Chiron as an adult (Trevante Rhodes). No longer the scrawny teen, Chiron has transformed into a muscular specimen of man. After years of not knowing who he was, or who he was supposed to be Chiron now goes by the name ‘Black’, a drug dealer of the same ilk as Juan. As a young man with a personality that he believes defines him, Chiron reconnects with figures from his youth that enable him to emotionally articulate his feelings like he never could. It’s a thoroughly touching chapter and a beautifully fitting end to one of the finest films you’ll see this year.
Moonlight is a film that demonstrates an exceptional level of character development, not solely because of it’s depiction of Chiron’s journey, but because it gives just as much attention to the peripheral characters that play a part in his life. The roles of Juan, Paula, and Kevin (also played by three different actors) all have defining arcs that express their own satisfaction with who they are, and where they are in life. In return each part is acted with grace an soul. As a result Moonlight is a triumph of storytelling, a sensitive work of art both powerful and gentle in the same stroke.