“At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.”
With its Best Picture win and heaps of praise over the last few months, I feel like Moonlight is a fairly obvious inclusion to the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, so I figured I’d write about it now after seeing it fresh for the second time yesterday.
My first viewing of Moonlight was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had in a movie theater. Having worked for Cinemark a few years ago and after analyzing all these movies over the last year, I wasn’t sure I’d ever feel the magic of going to the movies like I did when I was younger. Well, I heard a few words from a professor that Moonlight was well worth seeing back in December, so I drove 40 minutes to a small alternative theater, and I caught it before it had much of a following, before I had any ideas of what this film was about. I sat alone with my popcorn and was captivated for two hours. It’s the first time in a long time that I haven’t thought about cinematography or sound mixing, and I just watched the movie. It was magical.
Moonlight tells a three-act story of Chiron, a young black man growing up in Liberty City, Miami. He comes to learn valuable lessons about identity as he faces hardship in all aspects of his life. As Chiron ages and takes on new identities, so do the people around him, and it culminates in a beautiful coming-of-age story unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a film. It’s not a plot-heavy story.
Where anything is beloved, of course, there are bound to be detractors. Moonlight is an important movie for its treatment of both race and sexuality, but that’s not the only reason it deserved Best Picture, though some people have made this claim. Its presentation is so beautiful, so unique, that you can really allow yourself full immersion in the film. Every moment holds meaning. Writer and director (though it was adapted from a work of theatre) Barry Jenkins allows us to toss aside conventions of storytelling and instead focuses on conveying a human life. Identity is at the core of Moonlight, and though in different forms for different people, the film is universally relatable for this reason.
There’s something so confident about Jenkins’ direction that allows you to comfortably settle into the movie. As we’re conditioned to do, I often keep my guard up at the start of a film, challenging it to lull me in. Moonlight is so honest, so genuine in its treatment of events, that this cynicism is dispelled almost from the opening logos. We’re allowed to take our time in each scene. The final act has so few scenes, and one very long one (my favorite in the film), that we’re able to get truly personal without any “movie tricks” that a lesser film might sneak by us. This is a movie that reaches out a hand, allows us to marinate in its ideas, and leaves us wholly satisfied.
I can’t speak enough praise about Moonlight. My second viewing wasn’t nearly as magical, and in some ways it was nice to go back to the cold technical critiques, but the beauty was still there, and I hope to see this movie again in the future to get all the magic that I can out of it. It’s power resides in the personal. Every beat kept me mesmerized, and I am beyond relieved that Moonlight came out of nowhere to be my favorite film of 2016. No matter who you are, you owe yourself a viewing of this movie.
If you’re interested, I wrote a longer critique of Moonlight here.