Moonlight is the best film of the year. I’m going to see a lot of other films this year, but Moonlight is the best already and I doubt anything will change my mind. A triptych without a week third, A story that should be told, and one happens to have been told extremely well. Moonlight is beautiful and ugly, the ugliness of childhood and growing up while being shot and composed perfectly.
Director Barry Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton have a perfect understanding of Juxtaposition and composition. While not dynamic or full of movement, every shot is paid for. Nothing is throwaway, and the simple shot of someone wiping their hand in the sand has meaning and purpose.
Stark in tone but still filled with humanity and bittersweet waves of emotions. Nothing is perfect and even the silver lining has rust. Everything about Moonlight feels specific, and in that specificity Moonlight is Universal. Each section captures a specific moment in a man’s life, a turning point in who he is. Each one is anchored by details and moments that might seem written but still ring authentic.
The first section of Moonlight titled Little is about Chiron (Shy-rone) our main character as he is right on the edge of puberty, at this point due to his stature most everyone calls him Little. He’s the small, sensitive, and quiet one who doesn’t fit in. He’s the one who gets called “faggot” before he even knows what it means. He does not like football and runs from a fight because he knows he will not win. Little’s story directly crosses that of Juan who finds Little in a torn out apartment after running from bullies. Juan is a Miami drug dealer, and whatever image comes to your head is probably right. He defies whatever expectations you may have however, he’s instantly very sweet with Little and shows a fatherly instinct not everyone has.
Juan is played brilliantly by Mahershala Ali, He develops an affection for Little that feel believable. Alex R. Hibbert’s Little is so quiet and insulated that when he talks even in a large theater you strain to hear him. Ali plays off the quiet of Hibbert so well and brings out a vulnerability in himself and Hibbert that is perfect. The addition of Janelle Monae as Juan’s girlfriend Teresa creates this genuinely great surrogate family that you want the rest of the film to be about. Moonlight isn’t interested in happily ever after at this moment in time, Little’s mother is caring but abusive and it begins to expand into addiction and abandonment.
A full arc is explored from Paula truly being a good mother, falling deep into addiction and eventually finding herself in ongoing clinical treatment. We learn that like everyone else she assumes already that Little is Gay, and she hates him for it. This makes the last line of the film all the more poignant.
I didn’t love you when you needed, but I’m here now
— Naomi Harris as Paula
In a cast full of great performances in a movie perfectly suited to win Oscars, Naomi Harris does not just deserve and oscar but earns it ten fold. Not even taking into account that her entire roll was shot in three days and she’s the only true connecting fiber through all three parts.
In order to leave as much of this film for other to discover I won’t go any more in-depth on individual parts. Part one truly does set in motion everything that will flow into the other two parts. Moonlight is about waves, waves created but what we do and how they envelop or break against other waves. The Ocean is a recurring element of the first two parts the waves breaking against his little body as he learns to float with Ali’s Juan. The waves of Ali choosing to care for this child, the waves of his mother choosing crack over her son. Moonlight is about choices, why we make them and how they inform who we are.
Water also serves as a metaphor for choice, water precedes every important choice Chiron makes. From actor to actor, water is there as he decides to continue going to Juans House. From each actor to the next portraying Chiron there is one important thing that makes this movie perfectly cast. It’s the way I can see Hibbert’s eyes inside of Aston Sanders, and his inside of Trevante Rhodes. I feel the small confused Little and the awkward Teen Chiron inside of the “Masculinity gone awry” Black. Three actors playing the same character and I feel each of them.
Moonlight is on the best films of 2016 and I will bold enough to say of the Decade. Watch Moonlight because a film the beautiful doesn’t come along all that often. Watch it because it has perfect cast of actors. Watch it because Barry Jenkins could become on of the great directors of all time. Find some way to watch Moonlight NOW.