Moonlight

So Moonlight, one of the big awards-season movies. Gay persons are sort of obliged to see it, as it is a “gay movie,” although we’ll discuss what that may or may not mean later. As it is, the film is based on a play, and presented in three parts, one in which the main character, Chiron, is a boy of about eight, one where he’s in late high school, and one when he’s about thirty or so. In the first, he is mentored by an adult drug dealer, against the wishes of his mother. We find out that the dealer sells crack to his mother. In the second, he is bullied at school, and gets a late-night handjob on the beach by his one friend Kev. As an adult, he goes to meet Kev, and after some small talk Chiron reveals that no one has ever touched him that way, and then Kev touches him that way. Then the movie abruptly ends.

I had read ravishing reviews about the movie, but a few people complained about the non-ending [or rather, that familiar indie movie ending where you just stop the story, letting the very abruptness convey some kind of significance, without having to delineate what that significance might be]. It took me a while to get around to seeing the movie at all, largely because I had heard this about the ending.

Taking just what we have on screen, we have a movie about a black man who has homoerotic feelings, whether or not he turns out to be “gay,” but lives in such a violent, hypermacho world that he was no way of thinking about, let alone talking about, let alone acting on, his feelings. Looked at in that way, the whole film is about this man who is ten miles away from even beginning the discussion about who he actually is, and how he could live a complete, actualized life, and as such, it’s quite beautiful, sad and moving.

Thing is, it seems that movie is not the one the director intended to make, nor has any interest in. The director himself is straight [the writer of the play is gay], and both of them, in interviews, focus on the their similar backgrounds and the experience of growing up with mothers who were on drugs. The director has even said that he would have preferred to leave out the homosexual aspects of the story, but left them in out of deference to the writer’s past and work. So, is it a “gay movie?” To them, it’s a movie about growing up with addicted mothers with a thread of homosexuality. In interviews, they back away from the gay content and focus on the growing up in a poor neighborhood aspects.

Let’s start with the finished product on screen. It is a good movie that I would read as being mainly about the dealing with homoerotic feelings in a hypermacho environment. It is definitely worth seeing although it is sort of a character study at times seems like a short story blown up to feature length by including a lot of details and moving at a slow pace. And it has no ending, as discussed. But overall, it’s good.

Thing is, this movie is getting most attention as a gay movie, and is probably best seen as a gay movie, but it’s not really a gay movie. And one has to feel that the filmmakers are sitting back and letting it get attention as a gay movie—and no one is blaming them, anyone would want their film to get attention by any way possible. One also doubts it would get much of any attention if it were just about growing up in a poor neighborhood with an addict mother, whatever that says about our society and media. But at the same time… a gay person might feel a bit used by the way it all shakes out, especially the way the director is distancing himself from the gay aspects. So I have my reservations in that regard.

In conclusion, it’s fine. I thought it was good enough, not great. It’s worth seeing, but I still don’t have enough movies to make a Best of 2016.

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3 thoughts on “Moonlight

  1. I’m going to have to stop posting for a bit, but I’m glad to finally be able to ask you (and your readers) this: Did anybody call foul on the fact that, between Parts Two and Three, Chiron doesn’t get eaten alive by the correctional system? I found his transformation rather unlikely; being driven to a single vengeful act of passion doesn’t convince that such a small, otherwise gentle guy is going to become steeled in places where the antagonism is going to be so much higher. Maybe that’s upcoming in the Moonlight Cinematic Universe.

    I very much liked this film. It did seem to me that the addicted mother aspect was one of Chiron’s overall issues with attachment and intimacy, and that in his circumstances his sexuality was a greater barrier to making connections – not only with her but also his peers. She’s a mess, but worse than that, she’s a mess who hurls slurs at him and writes him off for traits he doesn’t even recognize yet (IMO, ymmv); were he pegged by her as straight, there’d be less damage coming his way from her. The sexual angle makes his friendship with Kevin more combustible. And structurally the movie resolves the mother storyline earlier and in a more cursory fashion than the stretch-out-and-sink-in, conclusive, truly transforming resolution with Kevin. Chiron’s sexuality isn’t a problem like poverty and wretched parenting are, but I felt in this environment it isolated him from everyone, and his growing alienation is the story’s dark force – and it’s defeated not be settling with Mom but by allowing himself to be open with another man.

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  2. Like you, I enjoyed the movie without being as overwhelmed as the current movie-hype machine demanded I be overwhelmed (and, to be fair, something like this HAS to get overhyped in order to have a prayer of dragging people away from their TVS and laptops). It was refreshing to see this kind of subject treated with grace and restraint, without exploitative histrionics (even the treatment of Chiron’s addict mother held back on the screaming until necessary). The non-ending was disappointing; I guess they were trying to avoid either a sappy Hollywood resolution or a standard indie-downer one without putting anything else in its place. My other major reservation [SPOILER ALERT] was that there really wasn’t enough context given for why Kev turns on Chiron in Part Two–we didn’t feel the pressure of the high-school complex forcing him in that direction. There’s one brief scene where the local bully compliments Kev’s fighting ability and two seconds later he’s slugging his new best friend in the playground. If we saw more of Kev’s life than Chiron’s perspective on him, we would have more of an idea of the image he is trying to protect. This is also the one instance where the movie’s theatrical origins show through. During most of the movie, Jenkins’ camerawork and editing are so smooth that you barely register that there are very few settings and usually only two or three people in a scene (like a play). The playground scene feels like an active attempt at a “cinematic” set piece, and (ironically) comes off as “theatrical” and unconvincing–a device to transition to Part Three.

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  3. As far as “best of 2016”–have you seen “Hidden Figures” yet? It’s the kind of movie-of-the-people that USED to win Oscars (and maybe should again).

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