MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo: Plan B Entertainment
Directed by Barry Jenkins. Starring Mahershala Ali, Trevante Rhodes.
If there is one constant in life, it has to be growing up. Everyone experiences childhood, adolescence and adulthood, and your identity is formed through family, friendships and community. Although religion can have a powerful influence in molding character, its part in moral development is intimately connected by its connection to family and community. To paraphrase Jesus: You cannot understand the love of God until you understand loving your neighbor.
Moonlight is a haunting and harrowing character study of one man’s struggle to find identity in a poor neighborhood in Miami. We first meet Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert) as a young boy, running away from a gang of kids who want to beat him up and finding solace in an abandoned house with Juan (Mahershala Ali), a local drug lord. Juan shows Chiron compassion and love, taking him out for a meal and then allowing him to spend the night in safety with him and his partner Teresa (played by the singer Janelle Monáe). Chiron will later return to his home where his mother Paula (Naomie Harris) is turning tricks for drugs, which she gets from a guy who works for Juan.
His broken home life is just the beginning of trials for Chiron, whose nickname is “Little” and who gets regularly bullied at school for being too sensitive. Fortunately, Chiron has a best friend in Kevin (Jaden Piner) and the two of them manage to circumvent most of their problems.
But time moves on and Chiron is next observed as a teenager (Ashton Sanders) and the bullying is becoming more vicious as all of the boys are becoming men. His friendship with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) brings comfort, but also confusion. Chiron’s home life is still a mess.
In the final chapter of this three-part story we encounter Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) as an adult, living a quiet life of loneliness. In time there will be a visitor from the past who will offer grace and love, but it may be too little, too late.
Writer-director Barry Jenkins has created a powerful film about race, masculinity, poverty, and the struggles of life. He has a wonderful ensemble of actors as well as beautiful cinematography and a memorable musical score. All of the main characters are complex creations – neither good nor evil – struggling to find light in the midst of darkness. A trip to the beach may offer solace for a few hours and friendships may be able to last for a lifetime, while forgiveness for past sins may be the hardest thing of all.
This is simply one of the best films of the year and highly recommended for adults. But mind the pitchforks and use discretion; it still may not be a film for you.
Four halos: A beautiful and sad coming-of-age story in the midst of drug addiction and abandonment.
Four pitchforks: Strong language throughout; scenes of drug abuse and prostitution; discreet scenes of sexual activity.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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