The BFS Recommends: Moonlight 5 comments

Moonlight Theatrical PosterFriday night, Jessica and I had a decision to make: were we going to see Lego Batman or Moonlight? We ended up choosing the latter, partially under the logic that plenty of people were going to see Lego Batman, and we might as well reward the theater for picking the less popular but more serious movie, which had just won an Oscar for Best Picture.

The logic behind the choice has come back to hit me harder than I thought it would: Moonlight is an important movie, one that we need now, more than ever.

This isn’t going to be so much a review of Moonlight (you can find an excellent review on Roger Ebert’s site), though I will say Moonlight may be one of the most perfect, character-driven dramas I have ever seen. Instead, it’s going to be a plea of sorts, an argument, for why you need to see it, sooner rather than later. Why the argument? I’ll get to that in just a moment.

As often happens with a movie as powerfully immersive as Moonlight, it lingered with me, and I found myself needing to bounce my thinking about it off of others. After talking it over with Jessica, I found the above-mentioned review. Even though I knew what I probably would find there, I scrolled down to the comment section and found this sad little post:

“Can anyone explain to me why this film is “important?” Because there are crack-hos and gay black people and drug dealers with hearts of gold? How am I not a complete human being if I don’t absolutely adore this mediocre trash and weep inconsolably whenever I think of poor little Little or Chevron or Black or whatever his real name is? My life was not “affirmed” by somehow surviving this torturous, dull, self-indulgent and amateurish melodrama. The emperor has no clothes!”

Yes, it’s a comment on the internet (Beware: here there be trolls). But it’s not an out and out troll comment (there’s at least some struggle to know what they’re missing), and more, I know that a movie that focuses on the coming of age of a gay black man in Miami is going to be tough content for some people. Let’s face it, we don’t see many movies like this, particularly one that has won major awards.

I’m actually a big believer in saying that not every movie and not every book is for everyone, no matter how good it might be. And you sometimes have to be in the right mood to handle an excellent movie or play (if you’re wanting comedy, you probably shouldn’t watch King Lear). But for someone to have apparently sat through the whole of Moonlight as this commenter did and have it pass clear above their heads is absolutely depressing.

Moonlight is about identity and trying to find it. About being crushed by others as you try to find it. And no matter how 100% awesome and sure of yourself you might be at this moment, every human struggles with identity. Everyone. So for someone to watch a movie that shows that struggle in a fellow human as perfectly and understandably as the film medium can allow, but still only focus on the externals of its characters? There is something wrong with that viewer.

Our society is increasingly focused on walls now—literal, political, or emotional—maybe more so than it has been at any other time in my thirty-eight years. Maybe the 80s and that part of the Cold War is on par or even worse, but it’s impossible to argue something hasn’t been going down the drain more and more the past couple years. And this problem isn’t due to one group or another, either. Take your pick of the current news: no matter where you look, it’s easy to see humans refusing to listen to each other, whether it’s conservatives ignoring/attacking those who don’t agree with them or this protest/attack on a conservative speaker at Middlebury College. We’d rather shout each other down, or win an argument or election than listen.

What beauty we are missing. I’ve never been to Miami; I’ve never had a parent struggle with addiction. I’m just a straight white guy that has lived his whole life in the Midwest, but I could feel and understand Chiron’s life, the protagonist of Moonlight. The movie is told in three parts, with Chiron in childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Each section pivots on a key scene, with Chiron reacting to the ocean. The joy Chiron feels as he learns to swim as a child, with ocean waves washing over him and the camera, is palpable. The hope or love or longing he feels when an ocean breeze passes over him in adolescence is impossible not to register: it’s the most happy we’ve seen him since he learned to swim. And the look on his face when he returns to the ocean as a young adult (he has been living in Atlanta for some years)? It’s the look any human makes when they see something they have missed more than they could describe.

I’d want Chiron to understand me. I know he’d understand the look on my face when I saw my wife for the first time in weeks. It shouldn’t matter that he’s never been to Minnesota or lived as I have lived.

And it really doesn’t.

5 thoughts on “The BFS Recommends: Moonlight

  • Nicholas

    Man, I hate to admit this in a public, but:
    I picked up Moonlight from the Redbox for Crystal and I to watch in bed on my laptop. About in hour in, I must have committed some type of pretentious noisery, but Crystal turned toward me and said, “What?”
    “Nothing,” I said.
    “What about this movie isn’t good enough for you right now?”
    “Nothing, it’s fine.”
    “I’ve been with you for 11 years, I know when you have a problem with a movie.”
    “Well…it’s just this Janelle Monae character. I mean, okay, I can accept the drug dealer with a hear-of-gold guy. I mean, that’s not common…it’s not even likely, but okay. This kind, good-hearted drug-dealer with a heart of gold takes a vested interest in this strange, introverted boy. Okay, fine. But drug-dealer with a heart of gold also has a kind-hearted, shockingly progressive for the 80’s even in a community not-as historically unfriendly to homosexuals as this one, girlfriend with a heart of gold? I just can’t got with it.”
    “That’s what you’ve gotten from this movie for the past hour?”
    “I mean what is her character arc? Benevolent angel==>benevolent angel?”
    “Are you a robot?”
    “No, I mean, this movie is really well made, I love the stuff he is doing with color, and the acting is really good, but I just…I can’t suspend my disb….
    “Okay, get out, I’m going to watch this by myself.”
    “Nonono, sorry. I want to watch it. I’ll be good!”
    I fell asleep with about 10 minutes to go.
    As soon as I saw that you had written this, I made Crystal read it.
    “Did I write this?” she asked me. “This is exactly how I feel. You’re the worst, Nic.”
    Sorry guys…

    • Jessica

      Neal and I want to make it down to visit you guys sometime anyway, but reading this really makes me want to meet Crystal even more! 😉

    • Neal Post author

      Well, it’s better to see the characters as layered, rather than the one dimensional “heart of gold.” Because I didn’t know how Juan/Mahershala Ali was going to be when he first showed up, I was actually rather nervous, as he very much had Little trapped if he wanted to do something not so great. I only knew the general synopsis of the movie going into it, so I knew nothing about how any of the characters were going to be and act.

      It’s true that Juan is playing against type in how he looks out for Little. But he is absolutely messed up and not heart of gold with his drug dealing (nor is it a one dimensional issue). Paula/Naomi Harris absolutely is right when she calls him on it, even if she’s doing it for all the wrong reasons. I’d also argue that Juan NEEDS to be with someone like Teresa/Janelle Monae. That woman is not going to be with a man unless there is something more to him, that there’s something good to him–we can see that about her.

      Teresa is the most static of the characters, but we can at least see some layers to her in trying to figure out how to respond to Little’s questions with Juan. The static-ness is okay also in that I think it’s something for Little to aspire to, or at least for the audience to compare to (which also helps us see where the movie ends, and what Kevin is talking about in the 3rd segment). The movie wouldn’t work as well if you didn’t have that character who has found some balance, as none of the other major characters have it the majority of the time we see them.

      And really, the small haven of hope Little finds with Juan and Teresa is against this backdrop of violence and hatred: the standard reaction to what he is is all around him. If there were just these couple of “haters” around, then it would ring of disbelief to me. And man, in that second section, where he is aimlessly roaming and finds the beach because he has LOST that one haven he had? That was despair looking me right in the face, and I felt as hopeful and as changed by his finding that beautiful beach as he was. It reminded me of far too many times I’ve been feeling down but got better by riding my bike or walking by a lake as well. There is something about water and breezes that changes the human soul. I don’t quite know why, but I know it is.

    • Neal Post author

      Oh, and Crystal’s comment cracked me up as well. No more being the worst, Nicholas! :p

      • Nicholas

        Jess, yes, y’all have to come! I promise all the tall of highs in the upper-90’s and 100% are lies!*
        Neal, all solid points. This Crystal-to-Neal echo-chamber is making me feel like I need to re-watch the film with a more open mind.

        *Except for between the months of April-November.

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