Tay’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Review in Which I Finally Write My First Novella, Which Desperately Needs an Editor, But I Wrote it at 2 AM and Therefore Cannot Be Bothered to Cut it Down
WARNING: LONG AS FUCK
to begin: here is the ugliest photo of me ever that kim snapped right after the lights came up. please laugh at this, or pity me, because hot damn i was wrecked.
i don’t think i’ve ever heard a more beautiful silence than is procured in Moonlight.
whenever people say to me, “i don’t like poetry” — and, surprisingly, this has happened regularly enough that i can actually write about this — i am always confused, disappointed, and skeptical. i mean, i get their reasons, and they are valid: i hate rhyming (me too, pals); it’s pretentious (yeah, i’d even argue all writing, and perhaps even all creating, is pretentious); it’s boring (andddd this is where my confusion/disappointment/skepticism really starts to get going)
because what does that mean? i know things that bore us exist, in poetry and in fiction and in music and in visual art and in movies. i know because i’ve been bored by things loved and lauded by the masses and by the few. i know when people say a collective thing is boring, they can’t actually mean everything, and they only mean a sliver, a slice, a glimpse, a grain among the vast and plentiful and overwhelming many.
but what concerns me about equating a collective as boring and thus, i don’t like it, is the hardness that forms in fashioning that dislike, that distrust, that disenfranchisement.
to say: i don’t like poetry is to be against it, i believe; to be against something is to be hard, too. maybe not actively hard. perhaps one can be passively against something — like, “i don’t like sports,” but i don’t actively go up to everyone in my family and remind them of this every sports tournament. that’s a passive hardness in me, though. i see that. i recognize it. and i want to reconcile it just as much as i want to reconcile that push against poetry.
because i want to move beyond that hardness. because hardness is easier than softness. being against/being guarded is safer than being for/being vulnerable.
Moonlight, i want to argue, is both poetry and soft. i know it is adapted from a short story — which i am going to read asap once i can the time it deserves to really see it — but this film is poetic. it’s fluid, it’s lucid, it’s a vortex. technically and thematically, it’s circular and cynical. the past molds the future, but the future colors the past, and both of these temporal bookends push down on (and, ultimately, lift up) the present.
the crashing waves are a liminal space: loss intruding on desire, desire tangled up with fear, redemption heavy with shame, guilt (literally and metaphorically) washed away by salvation. this is, in my opinion, one of the best audio cues and motifs i’ve ever seen and heard executed. it’s subtle but poignant, it’s loose but pointed. this film, in general, is one of the best sounding things i’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing: from the score to the actual audio editing, everything is crisp and damn near tangible. the whine of the insects, the splash of ice water, the sickening smack of fist against flesh, the croon of “Hello Stranger.” everything. everything. everything: and then some. Chiron’s silence is deafening — which is impossible! silence is not loud! but like a deft line break or purposeful enjambment (see how i’m starting to bring it back to my rant at the beginning?), Chiron’s silence is just as articulate as the dialogue and language of Moonlight itself. what he doesn’t say has a different weight than what he does say, but each inform the other. i haven’t seen this sort of divinely good subtext since the five seasons of Mad Men i actually watched.
GOD, the cinematography — the lighting, the framing, the spinning, the constant movement. i wish i was exaggerating (like, really, because it’s fucking embarrassing) but i pretty much cried throughout the entire film. not like a full on sob or even steady cry, but i definitely shed a tear or two every five or ten minutes, and sometimes it was really just because this film is so beautiful. it’s almost too beautiful to look at — but it’s also hypnotic, and even when i wanted to look away, i couldn’t. the whites, the blues, that disgusting neon pink. i want to see my world like this. as effortless, as refined, as ugly, as sublime.
perhaps i began this so seemingly out of left field, and perhaps i am really only talking abstractly about some of this film’s technical aspects, because i am scared to even try talking about Chiron and Kevin and Juan and Paula and Theresa. because i do not know how. i don’t have the language for it. i really fucking don’t. but we’re already this deep in, and i’m now determined to make my point about this being poetry, so here we go.
this film finished, and again, i was consistently shedding a tear or two throughout the entire thing, but then the final scene cut to black, and the credits began, and the lights came up in the ballroom i was watching this in, and i started sobbing. like, nasty-ugly-full-body sobbing. it wasn’t particular violent or snotty, thank god, but it was so involuntary and so responsive that i didn’t really know what to do with myself. my friend jaie gave me a tissue. i thanked him. i cried some more.
but i was so hopeful. i was so thankful and so moved and so worried and somehow all of that culminated in me knowing i was deeply and truly hopeful. i would not say this film has a happy ending, per se — and i’m sure i’ll be haunted for the next few days or months wondering what happens next? — but it’s ending is so hopeful and so powerful that it has left me unable to quite articulate it.
but i think at the heart of that hope is this: how fucking special, and how fucking righteous, that we get to see something so soft like this. it is so rare to see queer people of color on screen (period). but it is even rarer to see queer people of color get to be soft. and i don’t think i’ve ever seen a film where queer people of color get to be soft and are REWARDED for it.
the end is a celebration, as gentle as the softness that the celebration is protecting and promoting. i feel like i witnessed something so raw and so human and so rarely seen in Moonlight — love with consequences that are very real, but love that is not damned. there is redemption. there is salvation. there is, ultimately, hope. for queer people of color, for forgiveness, for softness.
this is longer than an essay i had to write for one of my classes this quarter and there’s still so much i haven’t touched on. the diner scene, the moment when adult Chiron forgives his mother, the ocean scene with Juan (like???? that’s so much? baptism? cleanliness? floating vs. drowning? the literal skill of learning how to swim? Juan’s conversation with Chiron afterwards?), CHIRON AS A NAME?????
but i am also okay with not say anything, because not only do i know it won’t be sufficient, but i believe it speaks for itself. this movie — whether with its nuanced script or its evocative silences — is more than articulate. it is visceral, it is honest, and — you guessed it — it is soft.
which leads me to conclude this novella with such: i open with my concern for people who don’t like poetry because i also know more people than i wish who haven’t and WON’T see Moonlight. that breaks my heart, i think, in the same way people who write off poetry (or film/fiction/music/fuck, even sports, which i am working on not writing off myself) do.
because it’s that hardness.
dislike is not inherently violent. dislike, i think, is natural and valid and even necessary (hence: opinions)
but i think there’s a quality of hardness to collectively writing something off, whether that hardness arises in aggressive masculinity, or systems of oppression, or ignorance, or disgust, or hate with consequences.
so i want to say this:
resist rhyming if it doesn’t float your boat. call something pretentious if it is. be bored. dislike things and disagree about things and discuss things.
but resist that hardness that is so easy to follow into, to choose, to not even realize you’ve silently resigned to.
be soft. let softness in. encourage softness, celebrate softness, advocate for softness.
start by seeing this film. then talk about this film (preferably with me, even though there’s a good chance i’ll cry, but with anybody, really).
and then go out and make your own art. put something into the world.
let yourself be soft, too.