I’m glad Moonlight won Best Picture over La La Land. Most of Moonlight is bleak, yet beautiful; it’s simple, yet incredibly diverse in the range of emotion that flit across the screen.
The film follows Chiron through three stages of his life: “little” catches him as an adolescent boy, “Chiron” offers a few scenes from his teenage years, and “black” shows us a glimpse of the man he eventually becomes. One of the things I liked most about Moonlight was that it never ties anything up neatly in a bow.
At every moment, even in the final shot of the film, Chiron struggles with his sexuality and identity. Juan, played by Mahershala Ali, plays an anchoring father figure during the first third of the film. Then, tragically, he disappears from Chiron’s life due to an off screen death, leaving Chiron floundering when he needs a powerful male figure the most. Chiron eventually becomes a drug dealer, just like Juan, and even adopts the same clothing style and mannerisms as his de facto father.
Although Mahershala Ali won the Oscar for best supporting actor, every single performance in Moonlight is incredible. The film is minimal on dialogue, so the actors do much of the speaking with their faces and body movements. When we do hear someone speaking on screen, the words seem so much more powerful, even though most of the time they’re phrases we hear in everyday conversation.
Somehow Moonlight manages to look incredible on a 1.5 million dollar budget. Much of the film is tinged with cool tones, marked at times by swaths of violent red. The lighting is deliberate, and complements perfectly a story Juan tells about being called “Moonlight” when he was a boy. The cinematography too is powerful, capturing the range of emotions that occur in each scene.
Moonlight would have felt a lot like a modern day Boyz n the Hood if it wasn’t for the haunting, string-heavy score throughout the film. Almost like in a horror film, the strings quickened during key sequences, but remained beautiful.
I was happy to see a packed room at the Michigan League. Moonlight is an incredible movie, and I agree in every way that it deserved Best Picture over La La Land. Moonlight has no fears about shoving us face first into questions of what it means to be human without bothering to answer them. Moonlight knows that being human and finding your identity is complicated, and it doesn’t wrap things up in a neat little box.