“In moonlight, black boys look blue.” When someone makes a list of the greatest movies of the 21st century, ‘Moonlight’ will be a guaranteed entry. Barry Jenkins’ expressive drama tells the story of Chiron, a young, sensitive African-American boy, who discovers his sexual orientation in an exhilarating odyssey. There aren’t many movies in the 21st century better than ‘Moonlight’ in terms of narrative structure and the marriage of sound and camera movements. The highly-praised flick also went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture over the much favored ‘La La Land’.
‘Moonlight’ is spread over three distinct periods in Chiron’s life: early age, adolescence, and adulthood. Barry Jenkins, the writer-director of ‘Moonlight’, explores the subtle transformation and changes in behavior Chiron goes through in the backdrop of changing cultures and the allusion of society. By dividing his exuberant story into three fragments, Jenkins manages to narrate Chiron’s life in a way that is accessible for people.
Life is a growing process. One goes through numerable phases of changes throughout one’s life. You can’t be the same person in two different moments of your life. ‘Moonlight’ employs three different shades to Chiron’s personality to achieve this imperfection in our wholesome personalities. Jenkins paints Chiron’s character in presenting three complex stages of his life: fragility, mutability, and convolution. The three parts are marked by a distinct perspective on Chiron’s life, while still retaining the underlying internal crisis that binds him in the overtly chaotic world. Regressive emotions are expressed akin to the romanticized words of a poet, or a gentle, confident stroke of an artist. Jenkins uses body language and evocative camera movement to achieve a sense of exclusion and solitude in Chiron’s life. Chiron communicates with the viewer, not often through words, but using this intertextuality of body and mind. His introverted nature is mimicked to a certain extent by the narrative style of Jenkins, making expert use of immersive sound and breathtaking visuals.
Jenkin’s ‘Moonlight’ is similar in stature and spirit to Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ which released some years prior. The transition from boyhood to adulthood, though presented in both the films, differs starkly in the way it takes shape. The perspectives of characters and their socio-cultural shadows are different, hence making one more character-driven than the other in terms of its storytelling. While ‘Boyhood’ greatly benefits from its champion cast and Linklater’s contemplative writing, ‘Moonlight’ derives its power from Jenkins’ understanding of the African-American community and his efficient recital of solitude, not to assert that the performances in ‘Moonlight’ are any less subliminal. The visual representation of human emotions is the highlight of ‘Moonlight’, enabling Jenkins to accomplish a technical coup, a rare achievement in modern-day filmmaking. This expert juxtaposition of the most basic elements of storytelling engulfs the viewer in a maelstrom of overbearing feelings that move us closer to Chiron’s own battle with the world.
The plot of the movie follows the life of Chiron, an introverted black kid who struggles with his place in life and society. The film is divided into three segments, each dealing with three different phases in Chiron’s life. Different actors bring to life the character of Chiron in each stage, grounding the fantasization as close to reality and humanly as possible.