Starting in Miami, the story of Chiron begins with him running and hiding from bullies who have clearly singled him out as the weakling of the group. Nicknamed ‘Little’, he truly is a picture of vulnerability; small in stature and socially inept, this only child of an addict mother is lost in a world where already he and others know he is different. Alex R. Hibbert captures his wide-eyed confusion perfectly and the chemistry between him and Juan (Mahershala Ali) is excellent. Few words need to be spoken by Ali, as his mastery of movement and use of space is one of the many reasons his acting is so exquisite. As Juan take him under his wing, the avuncular dynamic quickly provides a haven for when things at home are too much. Janelle Monáe as Theresa is the perfect caregiver and remains a strong role throughout.
As we move to the second part of the tryptic, adolescence, we find that Chiron’s relationship with his mother Paula (Naomi Harris) has gone from bad to worse. Ashton Sanders captures elegantly the inner turmoil of the many storms raging inside his character. As his mum’s addiction becomes more severe, his life at school is darkened by the constant theme of his existence: he is different. A friendship with Kevin (Jaden Pine, Jharrel Jerome and André Holland) is a place of relevant comfort and a means to try and figure out the feelings he continues to have.
The story then moves to adulthood. Here our protagonist, now using the nickname ‘Black’ (Trevante Rhodes) attempts to face head-on the issues of his past. Ironically (and indeed, beautifully) this attempt to find closure opens more doors than are closed. The open-endedness of the film being one of its best features. Director Barry Jenkins has cleverly let this film have as much time as it needs in order to allow characters to develop and further, our feelings toward them. The use of brilliant camera work and a soundtrack that is used sparingly, yet at just the right moments, ensures we are pulled along at the pace needed to take in the sights and sounds of Miami.
As films go this truly is something special. It would be all too easy to label Moonlight a “gay movie” and move on, but this would be selling it short by far. The issues run so very much deeper and Chiron’s own battle is rarely portrayed as being with his sexuality, rather it is with the management of those around him and their issues. It is a delight to watch a mainstream movie in which the “problem” is that the character is gay. Chiron in fact is not the problem at all and it is a privilege to join him as him grows and learns to master his own life. He is not without his flaws, that’s true, but his resilience and strong, silent demeanour is a beauty to witness. Moonlight isn’t just a film; it is a testimony of inner strength to those who many consider weak. A truly stunning contribution to the world of cinema.