Oh boy, buckle in for this one. When a movie has garnered widespread critical praise, it may be ill-advised to go against the grain, especially when said movie deals with socially current topics. But like Chiron in Moonlight, I gotta learn to speak my truth. Film critics love Moonlight. I do not.
But don’t sharpen your pitchforks just yet. I’m not here to rail against the movie. I don’t hate Moonlight just as much as I don’t love it. Put that on your movie poster.
Now, I could just give Moonlight five stars and nobody would be the wiser. But that would be unfair to the filmmakers who worked tirelessly to create this personal story. I need to dig deeper. What did I miss?
Correction: what bias did I bring with me to the theater?
I didn’t know much about Moonlight before viewing it in a theater. All I knew was that it was about a black kid growing up gay in a low-income area with drug dealers. I was not expecting a happy ending. In fact, I had near constant anxiety about what terrible thing was going to happen to Chiron at the end of the movie. That anxiety was never fulfilled.
What I can’t decide is if the filmmakers knew about, and played into the bias that people might bring into the movie. In the first act Chiron is taught… while eating dinner… by a drug dealer to always sit facing the doorway. In the third act Chiron is a drug dealer and he’s eating dinner with his back to the door.
Come on Moonlight! There are little details like that which make me believe this was done on purpose. But possibly it’s just my mind trying to make excuses for why the movie never fully clicked with me. Being distracted by the constant fear of death sure would do it. But that’s on me. I’ll take full responsibility for that issue.
But I’m pretty sure the script isn’t my fault.
I can’t recall many lines from Moonlight. I think the character Juan has some good lines. I know he talks to Chiron about “deciding who you want to be.” That’s a pretty nice moment and has a lot of bearing on the movie. The act structure is broken up into the three names that apply Chiron:
- Little: Nickname given to Chiron by others (he doesn’t like it).
- Chiron: He’s finding himself during this period.
- Black: The name Chiron picks for himself due to Kevin using this nickname in high school.
This theme of identity was smartly woven throughout the story. But I wish it hadn’t just been Juan who delivers the impactful monologues. The rest of the script seems like it might have been improvised. In some ways it makes the scenes feel natural with characters speaking softly or simply. But movies are not reality. Speaking plainly means that characters take the long route to get to the point. There are too many moments that refuse to be concise.
Tightening the script would have given Moonlight more time time to fix the biggest and most destructive issue. The relationship between Chiron and Kevin is poorly developed.
When I eventually figured out that the movie wasn’t going to end poorly for Chiron and I came to accept the stilted dialogue, I realized that Moonlight is simply a love story. Although, Romeo & Juliet is a love story too– No. Get that out of your head Alex.
Here is every single interaction between Chiron and Kevin:
- When Chiron and Kevin are little kids…
- Chiron and Kevin wrestle around for a minute at a playground.
- When Chiron and Kevin are in high school…
- Kevin brags to Chiron about getting caught having sex with a girl in the hallway.
- Kevin gives Chiron a handjob on a beach.
- Kevin, as part of a hazing ritual, beats Chiron up.
- When Chiron and Kevin are adults…
- Kevin calls Chiron to apologize.
- Chiron visits Kevin and the two have a long conversation at a diner.
- Chiron admits to Kevin that he has never had a sexual encounter with a man before or since the time on the beach.
- Chiron and Kevin embrace.
This is a brief recap but it does accurately reflect what we’re shown in the movie. Notice that the third act carries the weight of the relationship. That didn’t work for me. In my mind, relationships aren’t built backwards. I’m not able to put a ton of stock into something I haven’t grown to know.
As viewers, we meet Kevin once in the first act. When Kevin showed up in act two I didn’t even know that was the same kid from act one. I hadn’t realized that I was supposed to remember that one kid from that one scene. And now all of a sudden the mystery kid is giving Chiron a hand job on the beach. Why are they both on the same beach at the same time? I had so many questions that took me out of the movie. So by the time we’re at the end of the film I’m just like, “Okay.”
And the crazy part of all of this is that the ending almost completely worked for me. Chiron’s final moment of the movie did affect me. The effect was small. But it was there.
Imagine how powerful it would have been had there been a vested interest in the relationship between Chiron and Kevin. I would have bawled my eyes out and shouted hosannas from the rooftops until everybody saw Moonlight.
But as it is, I will mildly state that Moonlight is a good movie with a powerful story and some major flaws. I have a feeling that in the future I’ll look back on Moonlight how I currently think of Elephant. Both movies have haunting messages that overcome the movie’s issues. Although, Elephant does actually have a horrific ending that warrants the nonstop anxiety.
Moonlight ends quite nicely.