Moonlight is the Best Movie of 2016 and You Can Fight Me on That
I would like to preface this piece by stressing how little authority I have in determining what movies are worth watching and what movies are absolute garbage. I’m a 20-year-old white woman with limited life experience who hasn’t quite learned the difference between credit and debit. Apparently, society has anointed Quentin Tarantino one of the best filmmakers of our generation, and frankly I am appalled by this decision. Where was I for this vote? I have seen maybe two or three of his movies, including Pulp Fiction, and I can easily say they were all TRASH. This is beside the point, however, because now that I have completely destroyed any credibility I have as a film critic I would like to propose that why Moonlight is the one of the best movies I have ever seen.
I love movies that focus on multiple characters. I like seeing the evolution of each character throughout their respective plots within the movies, and I like seeing how the lives of the characters parallel within the movie. With this being said, I was a little hesitant to see Moonlight, a film directed by Barry Jenkins that tells the story of a young black man growing up in Miami and discovering his personal and sexual identity. I didn’t know if I would be completely bored watching one character on the screen for nearly three hours. I had never heard of the director either, and this only added to my wariness.
Despite my trepidations, this film left me almost speechless. As mentioned before, the movie takes place in Miami, Liberty City specifically, an area of the city known for drugs and crime (according to the film). The plot follows a young man, Chiron, and is told in three parts: childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Chiron’s mom is absolutely the worst, but he befriends a man, Juan, a bigtime drug dealer in Liberty City, who becomes his mentor. Juan is a father figure for Chiron, someone who teaches him what it means to be true to himself. During his time with Juan, Chiron begins to develop his own identity. Chiron knows he isn’t like the other boys in his neighborhood, but he doesn’t exactly understand why.
As he enters his teen years, Chiron becomes more conflicted with his sense of self. This second part of the movie was incredibly relatable. Unless confidence oozed from your pores and you didn’t care what anybody else thought of you, high school was probably average at best. It was awkward, and people were kind of shitty, but you had to put up with it because you just needed to hold on long enough to graduate and hopefully go to college. My high school experience was basically everything I’ve already described, but this was a cakewalk compared to what Chiron and millions of other teens experience. I never struggled with my sexuality or gender identity. I always knew I was attracted to the opposite sex, and I never felt an internal conflict with myself because of my sexuality. Chiron’s conflict, however, plays out on the screen. The audience watches as his terrible home life and his constant state of confusion and uncertainty manifest themselves in Chiron’s behavior at school. Without giving away too much, there is one scene in particular where Chiron sits in his school principal’s office and completely breaks down, the weight of everything he is experiencing finally caving in on him. I felt like I knew Chiron, that I went to school with him and was watching his struggle in real time. I wanted to be there with him, to tell him everything was going to be ok and that he didn’t need to be scared anymore.
This intensely emotional plot was accompanied by amazing cinematography and beautiful music. Yes, I realize how pretentious I sound using the word cinematography, but 1) that is the correct term for camera work in a film and 2) it was really something to be admired. The perception of the camera put you in every single scene. You are there with Chiron, growing up alongside him. The music is breathtakingly beautiful as well. There’s something to be said about the poise and gracefulness of string instruments played against the backdrop of a run down, drug-ridden neighborhood in Miami. It was juxtaposition at its most poetic.
In Chiron’s young adulthood, we see the culmination of his changing personality and identity throughout the movie. We see him become a man, confident and no longer plagued by the awkwardness of adolescence. Despite Chiron’s age and change in appearance, he is still struggling with his identity and confronting his sexuality. It’s as though he hides his true emotions and puts on a mask of security, convincing himself that he has resolved any kind of conflict he once had. The ending of Moonlight is one of open-endedness.
I was left with a feeling of both closure and lack of resolution. I wanted more, but I couldn’t imagine the movie ending any other way. It was painful and heartbreaking, joyful and warm. Moonlight isn’t a movie for a singular audience; it’s for anyone who has ever felt like they weren’t ok, or that they didn’t “fit in” to a place where they were sure they were supposed to belong. It’s for anyone who has ever loved someone so deeply that it physically hurt, and for anyone who has ever cried so hard that they thought their eyes would swell closed. Moonlight is the kind of movie you should see before you die, just to understand the human experience, to feel any kind of empathy for someone else. I’ve recommended it to everyone I talk to, and I will continue singing its praises until everyone I know has seen it.
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