Some movies stay with you long after you’ve left the theater. The depth of character portrayed or the way the human experience unfolds can somehow cause you to look inside at your own situation.
Some films unveil a way of life so foreign to your own that the viewing becomes a wake-up call, a reminder that your own ease and comfort is something you take for granted. Here, enter this corner of the world that’s dark where the people depicted have hard, disaffected lives. But for an accident of birth, you could be one of them. Such is the film “Moonlight.”
I recently spent a long weekend in Tennessee in an urban area whose cultural center was close to a major university. Their non-profit cinema hosts a variety of independent and foreign films seldom, if ever, shown outside a special venue. For Uber fare less than the price of a Starbuck’s, I found myself at a movie screening of “Moonlight.” So with very limited screenings in out of the way places, if you decide to take the plunge and see this film, you’ll probably have to wait for Netflix.
Adjectives that describe “Moonlight”: disturbing, heart rendering, uncomfortable, revealing, challenging, and at times, disconcerting. This film is a character study that peels away all the layers in the life of one young black man growing up in a dangerous neighborhood in Miami. Staged in three parts (the screenplay was derived from a play), the film moves from his childhood, to adolescence, to adulthood.
Part one introduces Chiron (Alex Hibbert) mockingly called Little by the neighborhood kids. He’s a scared, bullied, mostly silent child who has to hide to avoid being beaten on the way home from school. His father is absent. His mother hosts a variety of boyfriends, locking him out when she’s occupied, and snapping orders at him through a drug induced haze.
In part 2 Chiron (now played by Ashton Sanders) confronts more serious bullying as he makes discoveries about his homosexuality. These are nearly impossible waters to navigate, and when he reaches his limit, Chiron lashes out the only way he knows how, with violence and force. His pent-up rage sends him over the edge, and any door that might have opened for him slams closed.
In part 3, Chiron’s evolution is complete, and we see the results of all these forces. Chiron (now played by Trevante Rhodes) has become a product of it all. He’s survived prison, but at a steep price. The only hope comes from Chiron’s ability to be true to himself. It’s all he has, and all he will ever have.
“Moonlight” is a coming of age story of one young black man in urban America. It’s a tale full of sound and fury, signifying much.
Rated R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout.
Marilyn Robitaille has been reviewing films for the Empire-Tribune since 1999.