R. All the R. RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR...
DIRECTOR: Barry Jenkins
[Note: This post has been edited since it won Best Picture. It was getting a decent amount of attention and I was ashamed about the haphazard way I handled writing it.]
Lauren asked me "What are you going to write about this one?" It's super touchy. There's a lot of uncomfortable content in this one. But it also is something that I probably need to talk about. But I see this movie in terms of something about the reflection on humanity. And I really didn't like what I saw. This has to be a true story, so I guess that only depresses me all the more.
There's a moment in this movie. Juan is sitting next to Chiron. It was the clip used for Best Supporting Actor. Chiron straight up asks Juan if his mother does drugs. He asks him if Juan deals drugs. He is aware that Juan has caused his life to fall apart. And that's fine. Apparently, that's fine. Mom is an addict. Addiction, while not eliminating culpability, is something that is taken into account when it comes to making choices. Mom is absolutely a horrible person, but Juan has done this to Chiron. He is a monster, yet his adoption of Chiron does not let him off the hook for the world he has thrust him into. It may take the edge off slightly, but I don't know why Juan is seen as heroic in this film. He's an awful human being who has set all of the events into motion. Then I'd like to continue this logic to Chiron as an adult. The movie focuses on the pain that he goes through time and again. Yet, he goes into the very profession that destroyed his life. He knows first hand the pain that drugs create. But he is thrusting that world on countless others all for the sake of money. Chiron is not noble. He is pitiable at best. But I have a real difficulty pitying him knowing that he has made dozens of other children like him; children that spend their evening taking care of their parents and living in fear and poverty. I know that his life was terrible. I witnessed it through film. But his sin might be greater than that of Juan's. He knows first hand the damage he is causing and he embraces it. That's messed up.
This has to be a true story. I know it's a Google search away, but this rings as a true story. I just don't love when sexuality is thrust upon kids. Chiron is too young to even think about his own sexuality. And that's my white suburban privilege talking. It's just such a strange message. Chiron was defined by others way before he had a chance. My heart bleeds because I want him to play with other kids and to go home and have a home. I want him to be a kid and I know first hand that there are way too many kids who lead Chiron's life. That's really the hardest part of this movie. Perhaps there is a message about nature v. nurture here. There probably is quite a bit to dispute. But I also know that the real tragedy comes from the environment that Chiron is exposed to on a constant basis. I couldn't help but take that into account when I heard the producer's speech about how they were waking people up to the challenges kids go through when it comes to their sexuality. Yes, that is a very real problem. But was the narrative itself part of the problem? The fact that I can have a blog about film means the problems in my life have to be fairly minimal. I just don't want to applaud the moments in the film that are considered liberating. This kid is thrown into the deep end of the ocean (Oh, I get the swimming metaphor now...) and expected to understand everything that's going on. I watched the uncomfortable scene (yup, that one) and I knew the next thing that was going to happen with Kev. None of that is healthy. The part that I can agree with the creators of the film on is that the world has a toxic relationship with how we process emotions as a culture. I just probably don't agree with the solution.
The real magic that comes from this movie is the movie making. This is a movie that stands tall based on cinematography, score, and performances. Barry Jenkins made a gorgeous looking movie. Each cel was a masterpiece. The use of color and music, golly. Mise en scene, right guys? There's a part in the movie that keeps haunting me. Naomie Harris is framed center, staring dead center at the camera and is illuminated in purple. It is slow-mo and it is painful. And this is where the movie sings. It is the attention to every single aspect of every shot that emotionally manipulates. I stand by my original assessment of Chiron and Juan, but I did relate to them. They are framed absolutely beautifully. The story can be told without performances, but those performances are still great. I am still weirded out that Mahershala Ali won for Best Supporting, but after Mark Rylance got it for Bridge of Spies, I can get behind it. I found it more bizarre for the three actors who played Chrion. That's where the heartbreak was. Ali had an excellent 2016 between this and Luke Cage. I can't help but think that the Oscars reflect that attitude of "This actor has a range of work we're celebrating" rather than individual performances. Ali is great, but the character isn't that much of a range. He shoehorns himself into the plot and is pivotal to the story, but what is really being asked of Ali? Hang out with a kid well? There's no real ups or downs, with the exception of the one scene with Naomie Harris, and Harris is really doing the heavy lifting.
I kept trying to think what other film Moonlight reminded me of. I kept seeing moments of Boyhood, only with a far more cohesive structure. Boyhood meanders a bit more, but we definitely explore the motif of "growing up" in an effective way. The three chapters of Chiron's life are all interlocking stories and the choices that are made between one and two are fascinating. I don't know about Part III, simply because that change is huge. The character is unusually quiet for a protagonist. Things happen to him rather than being a force of nature that drives the story. Even Black is more of a face that Chiron wears. Trevante Rhodes really should have gotten more attention because he is more of the dual nature of the character. Of course, I'm going to applaud the younger actors for their performance in such a difficult piece, but Rhodes manages to hide the two younger versions inside a very different performance. Black is a persona and Little and Chiron can take a back seat. But they are always there. Black's abandoning of that mask in the diner was haunting and I wonder if we all somewhat do that. Chiron has a reason for hiding his younger selves, but that moment really did ring true.
I want to close up on the character of Teresa. Teresa is the most likable in the story. She seems like a genuinely wonderful person. She takes care of Chiron out of the goodness of her heart. And there is something to be said about what love makes us choose. But I want to see the argument. I want to see her make the connection that I made earlier. I want to see the tears and the sacrifices that she makes to stay with Juan. She can't go through her life without thinking about it. I don't know. It is all so complicated and I applaud complication. Perhaps it is the focus of the piece that doesn't allow us to explore Teresa's journey in this whole thing. Harris often attacks Teresa as being the false mother, but does Teresa view herself as a mother. For such a central character, I don't get much about Teresa's motives or her guilt for her part in Chiron's life.
This is a beautifully made movie that hurts and kind of makes me think less of humanity. I like challenging movies, but usually ones that make me want to think the best of the world. There has to be a hint of a better place. This just left me broken and I don't know if that's what I want.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.