In an era where compassion has fallen out of fashion in favor of fear and willful ignorance, Moonlight offers a beacon of hope for fellowship of man. This past year, political strife exposed the gouges that years of self-segregation have carved out upon our collective consciousness, and it became depressingly apparent that our wonderful melting pot of a nation is marred by ignorance. Within that schism is where the beauty of Moonlight lies. To take what is arguably one the most marginalized members of society (a gay, black drug dealer with learning disabilities) and manage to portray him as nothing more than a human being, stripped away of all the connotations that would plague him in his everyday life, is no easy feat.
Director Barry Jenkins wasn’t just able to weave a heartfelt tale of love and alienation, he had to persuade audiences to forget about all of the prejudices that might subconsciously burden them as simple moviegoers and empathize without a second thought. As such, not only is Moonlight a beautiful and euphonious film (every minute seems to be washed away in the silvery splendor of a pink Miami sunset coupled with a deceptively complex Nicholas Birchell score) it is legitimately important for American audiences to see it if just for a quick reminder of how to truly feel empathy.
On a technical level, Moonlight is brilliant. Masterful performances by Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes manage to capture the random idiosyncrasies of child actor Alex Hibbert and replicate them so convincingly that the character of “Chiron” seems to transcend the bounds of time and space and instead exist as an intangible spectral personality, using the various host bodies offered up to it as vessels in order to convincingly tell the story of Little, Chiron, and Black (the names that divide Chiron’s story into three distinct phases of life). Be warned, that story isn’t for the faint of heart. The audience is forced to watch as the innocent Little is slowly dragged into the toxicity of his surroundings, weighed down by years and years of abuse, poverty, and the simple cold indifference of the world. Of course, all humans are eventually corrupted by time, but to watch the process in such unflinching high definition forces the viewer to feel, in a way, responsible for the transition from cute little Little to the hulking and menacing Black, simply by virtue of being an American.
Moonlight stands alone as a testimony to both humanity’s potential to love and humanity’s tendency to hate, somehow managing to explore the intricacies of that dichotomy without being bogged down by the implications of all it reveals. In a word, it is astonishing.