This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
TJ D’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Another 2016 Fall Film, another film that is resolutely against the political sway of the country. Moonlight is a film about personal identity, about the man or woman we wish to be. The protagonist here is seen in 3 separate sections, growing up in chapters, each titled for a different name or nickname he received.
Little is a young black kid who is beat up for being a "faggot". He is taken under the wing of a big hearted drug dealer, Juan, and that drug dealer's girlfriend, Teresa. Little's own mother, Paula, works as a nurse, but her crack addiction gets in the way of her life and Little's life. She resents Juan for what he does for Little, and seemingly resents Little for being around. The final scene of this section is one of the great heartbreaking moments of 2016 film, where Little recognizes the hypocrisy in Juan's lifestyle, and how the Miami around them likely created this hypocrisy.
Chiron, Little as a teenager, is a confused kid. His friend Kevin is an unlikely ally in the Little chapter. After much bullying, Chiron goes to meet Kevin at the beach, where they have their first gay experience--well, it's Chiron's first. Chiron has changed from when he was little. He is angrier, more confused, sadder. His mother has grown more addicted to crack, his father figure Juan is dead, and even Kevin, his closest friend, by the end of this chapter beats Chiron due to peer pressure from a bully. When Chiron attacks that bully, and goes to juvie, his life is turned topsy turvy.
Black--this is the name Chiron received from Kevin when he was a kid--is now in Atlanta, becoming the man Juan was. He is tough, but in fleeting moments, his normal sensitivity comes up and provides cracks in his demeanor. He can still become silent, not wanting to fill the dead air with his voice. His mother is in rehab, and is deeply sorry for the pain she caused her son. He is there for her, though resentment does build. Juan once told him that he hated his mom too, but he misses her like hell.
When Black, in this third chapter, gets an unexpected call from Kevin, he goes and visits Kevin, who also did some time behind bars. Those days gave him a love of cooking, and a job he loves. He has a kid, though he isn't with the mother. Kevin cuts into Black with commentary on his gold fronts, his car, his drug dealing job. But in those quiet, intimate moments, we see the true men with deep love for one another, and that is important.
Chiron, pronounced Shy-Rone, is this man's name. But the name is also, pronounced differently, is the name of the famed centaur of greek mythology, who was sensitive and a teacher of others. This kid did become Juan in a certain regard. And that evolution makes sense, because love was shown to Chiron, so he has love to give in this next section of his life.
The final shot encapsulates the whole film, with its neon vibrancy, making Little, in a flashback of sorts, glow blue, just like the story Juan told him. He learned to swim, a baptism of sorts, from Juan, and that led him on the path of becoming successful.
What is next for Black/Chiron/Little? What is next for Kevin? Paula? Teresa? The rest of their lives will be filled with joy and strife, but nonetheless, their lives are fully lived. The care and complexity that Barry Jenkins takes to investigate these characters is something that I'll hold inside for a good long time.