And the Best Picture goes to La La Lame! Oh…Wait. There’s been a mistake. Best Picture actually goes to MOONLIGHT! Score!!
Directed by Barry Jenkins
Screenplay by Barry Jenkins
Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney
I don’t see colour…is maybe the most white thing a person can say. As if you walk around in grey-scale all the time. C’mon, man, (my President so eloquently says) Humphrey Bogart didn’t say, “You played it for her, you can play it for me. I’m sorry. You are Sam, aren’t you?” to Dooley Wilson.
The point being: I’m not qualified to comment on the sociology of Moonlight; I’ll leave that to people who are genuinely equipped to address those issues, and not be an asshole. Now, what I AM qualified to do is review the cinematic elements of the film. And here we go. *NO SPOILERS*
Barry Jenkins has performed an almost impossible magic act with Moonlight. In dealing with some of the most brutal truths of our existence he forces us to face violence, hatred, bigotry, and decay before whisking the images away to deny us “closure” on the scenes. We flinch and cringe, but find out only in the most oblique ways. if at all, the outcome of the tragic sequences. Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play was not there to make us more comfortable, so why should this film be any easier on us?
The characters are growing up in a rough neighbourhood in Miami where drugs, crime, and violence are facts of life. None of the major characters is from central casting. There are reasons why each person has reached the point they are at in the story. Fingerpointing is so easy when you only see one frame, a moment in time, and not the realities of a life lived so far from the one-percent. Shit does happen and when you don’t have a silk safety net to catch you it’s scramble for a toehold or fall. Mahershala Ali and Trevante Rhodes play out the personification of this theme masterfully. (If this is another Whitebread Academy Awards I’m looking at you, President-Elect Tangerine Jelly Bean.)
Here’s a problem though. There are no good guys and no bad guys? That impression this would be vastly different if Jenkins had shifted that sleight of hand to reveal some of the actions taken to enforce territory and loyalty, especially in the drug trade. Watch a few seconds of that and your own loyalties may start to shift, radically.
There is the brilliant cruelty of characters simply vanishing, prompting us to look back in dawning sadness to the last scene in which they appeared. This is too often the reality of how we lose people in our lives. When did we last see him? I can’t remember the last thing I said to her. Maybe they’ll show up again. But, they won’t.
Perhaps the most deft touch comes in the treatment of a subject of sexuality that is touchy enough in society, but particularly taboo in the African American community. Jenkins meets it head-on early in the first third of the film when Chiron, the protagonist, is a preteen. It is addressed again when he is in high school, and, finally, when he is an adult. Between these pivotal scenes, there is no titilation, no sexploitation. During the scenes? The sexual tension is almost unbearable.
Have I given you much concrete detail about Moonlight? Nope. That was never my intention. What I intended to say is that this film comes at you with a gripping script, raised up around you as a frightening world by a masterful director, peopled by some of the most talented actors on the scene today. All on a budget that doesn’t buy you much in the entertainment world these days, except this time it bought you the best. If I failed to mention the music — Barbara Lewis, Erykah, Aretha, Kurtis McKenzie, Iggy Azalea, DEZO — I would be leaving out a huge chunk of the drive and atmosphere. It would take a second viewing just to be able to take in the full impact of each song by name. Well, except one. And that one song actually brings Chiron’s life full-circle when you think about it. But, you have to see it before you can think about it.