Considering this is only his second full-length feature film as director, Barry Jenkins has struck gold with “Moonlight”. Based on the play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney, “Moonlight” follows Chiron, a young boy growing up in a disadvantaged neighbourhood of Miami. Living with his abusive drug addict mother and dealing with intense bullying at school, Chiron attempts to battle his way through the world and in turn, goes on a journey of self-discovery.
In similar ways to Richard Linklater’s 2014 masterpiece “Boyhood”, Jenkins chooses to use a series of chapters to share Chiron’s story with the audience, with each part focusing on a significant time in his life.
We start with i) Little (a young boy), ii) Chiron (a teenager) and conclude with iii) Black (an adult) . Unlike “Boyhood”, a different actor is used for each chapter and we are treated to some stunning debuts from Alex H. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes, who have studied each other’s mannerisms and characteristics and successfully given Chiron a believable sense of identity. This clever device enables us to fully empathise with an outcast living under challenging circumstances and trying to find his place in society.
Despite being set against a bleak backdrop, the film is visually stunning. It’s director uses the ocean as way of escape for Chiron and this is highlighted in a scene where ‘Little’s’ unofficial guardian, the well-intended Cuban drug dealer Juan (played by the wonderful Mahershala Ali, in a supporting role worthy of taking home the prize at this year’s Oscars) takes the small boy for his first swimming lesson. It is a tender, honest scene, shot in a way which immerses the audience in this ironic friendship. We soon realise that the beach is a place of sanctuary for Chiron and where key moments in his life are conveyed.
Another supporting star turn is by our very own Naomie Harris, who bravely takes on the role of Chiron’s abusive mother. A large step away from Miss Moneypenny, Harris portrays this character with such authenticity, you soon forget her more glamorous facade. Using a luminous background, Chiron receives terrible verbal abuse from his mother at a period in his life where he is unable to understand the meaning of her slurs. It is a difficult scene which creates a spiteful feeling of unfairness, cleverly paired with a beautiful shot.
The music lends itself perfectly and adds to the unique storytelling and stunning cinematography. Nicholas Britell has composed a classical score which is layered with hip-hop and romantic R & B undertones, keeping it true to it’s setting. The juxtaposition of the neighbourhood and the beauty of the sea can also be felt by the use of oceanic sound effects frequently flooding our sound waves during critical scenes.
The tagline reads ” The Story of a Lifetime”, but this film could be the “Movie of a Lifetime” for so many men trying to come to terms with their sexuality in a difficult social landscape. It is the aging of a lonely young boy,to a troubled teenager and finally to a young man struggling to be himself in a culture of vigorous masculinity. “Moonlight” speaks to us softly and gradually, bringing a widely untold story to the forefront with grace. I think it is a strong contender to float it’s way to the hearts of the Academy and pick up the Best Picture Oscar on 26th February.