Moonlight ★★★★★

In Moonlight, director Barry Jenkins uses everything other than our main character to tell his story. Chiron, our main protagonist, is brilliantly played by three different actors (Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex R. Hibbert) to physically show his development from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. However, even though we physically see Chiron age, it’s the film’s vibrant color palette that tells us all we really need to know about who Chiron is, even though he really doesn’t seem to know himself. Chiron is our central protagonist and he rarely ever leaves the center of the frame because of it, but it’s because of his quiet nature that we don’t explicitly get the sense of who Chiron is and we’re seemingly left in the dark about his identity just as much as he is.

The first chuck of the film is titled Little, after a nickname the neighborhood kids have given Chiron. In just the first few scenes, we're shown what is essentially the essence of childhood. The camera is shaky and it quickly pans from child to child as they run around chasing each other and tossing footballs around, but Jenkins shows us that there's more to childhood than just this playful aspect. This chunk of the film is also about how the aspect of identity is introduced to children and how they go about creating this image for themselves. Chiron is asked who he wants to be on more than one occasion, to which he simply shrugs because at this point in his life, he doesn't have to define himself because he's a child and that's how it should be. However, while he doesn't feel the need to, society does and because he knows no other way to be and no one is telling him that he can just be himself, he is whatever everyone else tells him to be and that is "Little". The neighborhood bullies not only bully him for being small, but they throw homophobic slurs at him as well. As a child not really knowing what sexuality is, in one of the film's most heartbreaking scenes, Chiron goes to see Duan the drug dealer and his girlfriend, Teresa, who have taken him is a their surrogate son, and he asks them what a "faggot" means. While he may not agree with their words after he's told what it means, he just takes it because he doesn't really know what to do. All he's ever known is other people's opinions of him, so he takes the abuse. This is finalized when the boys are looking at their genitals in the school bathroom and Chiron walks in. With the camera positioned higher, he appears little both to us and the bullies and as the scene ends, Chiron walks towards them with his head down in defeat.

Speaking of identity, Richard Linklater's 2014 film, Boyhood, is also a film about identity and it's also told from the prospective of a young boy over different chucks of his life. We see Mason grow like we do with Chiron, however, Mason's actor stays the same. Like Chiron, Mason is also constantly asked by others who he wants to be and like Chiron, he doesn't really have an answer. However, unlike Chiron, Mason gets a chance to explore different aspects of himself and become the person he wants to be. While the adults ask Mason who he wants to be in the context of his role in society, he does also grow as a person. Constantly, adults ask him who he wants to be in the way adults ask children what they want to be when they grow up. Mason wants to take pictures and he has the ability to not only do that, but he also have the opportunity to explore other career options as well, interacting with the people in his life in a somewhat positive matter. It's not like that for Chiron. When Duan the drug dealer asks him who he wants to be, he's asking not in a societal context, but in a more literal one. Does he want to be like the bullies at school? Does he want to be tough? Or does he want to go on taking these other kid's nonsense for the sake of being nice and preserving any sort of innocence he has left. Also nothing really happens in Boyhood. There is conflict and there is a point to the film, but the film is not a character study as Moonlight is. Mason is not this singular character, he is all of us. He's a seemingly bland, unspectacular young man, but that so he can easily be whomever is watching the film. The whole point of the film Boyhood is not to see the world through Mason's eyes and understand him as a person because his character is seemingly irrelevant. We see him grow and change, but again, it's supposed to represent us watching ourselves grow and change. These seemingly bland situations are relatable to pretty much anyone who watches the film, so instead of watching everything unfold from this young man's perspective, we're watching it from our own as if we're children again ourselves and that we're the ones growing up on the screen. It's meant to be universal to everyone, so that when they look up at the screen and watch Mason go through life, it's as if they've got a second chance at childhood. Chiron's experience is singular in the aspect that we're watching his life unfold and this is merely his experience. It's specificity is key in understanding how as humans build our identities from childhood, however, just from another perspective and an interesting one at that because Chiron's story is one we don't hear about often.

As we move forward to examine Chiron's teenage years, we see that nothing much has really changed. The bullies still pick on him and they say the same kinds of things they were saying to Chiron when they were kids. However, now Chiron has more of an opportunity to become his own person and more of an opportunity to stand up for himself. However, because he was denied the opportunity to try and understand himself at a young age, he now struggles with attempting to try and become who he believes he should be now that he's older. The title of this chapter in Chiron's life is Chiron in accordance to his struggle to find himself. When he was younger, he was whatever people told him to be. Now, he longs to get the opportunity he was denied when he was a child to become his own person because Little is no longer little. He wants to be himself. He wants to be Chiron, but instead he becomes someone completely different.

In the last little section, titled Black after name a nickname Kevin, the boy he had his first sexual encounter with, gave him. While he thinks he is set in his uber masculine identity as a hardened drug dealer, he still isn't happy, which can be understood via the film's very unique color palette. Color in film is typically associated with the tone of a scene or the emotions of a character in that scene. Take the movie, Inside Out, for example, each of the characters are literally human emotions and they’re designed after the colors typically associated with that emotion. Blue is typically related to feelings of sadness and isolation and not only is blue the color of the character Sadness in Inside Out, but it is also the color that paints Chiron’s world, especially during his adult years because he now regrets who he's become.

His mother, a constant negative factor in life, is a drug addict who is never seen without a touch of blue to her wardrobe, which ironically consists of a nurse’s uniform even though she’s far from caring. Though she appears put together at times especially even when Chiron meets her after she’s put herself in rehab, the blue color in her clothing reminds us of all the bad things she’s put her son through and how it could easily come all back if she relapses. During the few times where Chiron is at ease, such as the scene where he’s sitting in his bathroom, there’s not a stretch of blue to be seen. The bathroom walls are bright white with pops of yellow tiles as a sign of hope that things will eventually get better, but the blues always seem to return. Kevin is one of the few positive people in his life. Like Chiron’s bathroom walls, Kevin typically appears in white and puts Chiron’s worries at ease when they’re together. However, Kevin is pressured by the bullies of the school to beat poor Chiron up and it’s not coincidental that he wears a blue shirt that same day. It’s after that he’s provoked enough to turn into the bully that was keeping him down, however, it’s because of that yellow shirt he’s wearing during the scence that we can at least hope for a better future for Chiron, but we're merely disappointed when we see who he's become.

And in his adulthood, the amount of blue we see is intensified. While the blues were lighter in tone towards Chiron's younger years, in his adult years, the blues are mysterious and dark. They're almost so blue, that they're black like the name he's given himself. He never got the opportunity to try and be himself when he was a kid, so now he's stuck in a life that's not his own as a drug dealer. When he meets Kevin again, the two chat and catch up. He's also taken notice of Chiron's new identity and he, too, knows this isn't who Chiron was supposed to become.

The last time we met Kevin, he was wearing his bright blue shirt and kicking the snot out of Chiron. Now he runs a restaurant and he's wearing bright white, chef's attire like some sort of angel destined to save Chiron and that's what we assume. However, once they make it back to Kevin's home, they chat some more and Kevin suddenly changes into a blue shirt and blue has already been designated the color of sadness and a sign that something bad is going to happen. Afterwards, they have sex and we see the two of them together and the film shortly ends afterwards. This could spell out two different endings to Chiron's story. He could change and he and Kevin could end up living happily ever after because that's what we want for Chiron. However, not every story has a happy ending. Kevin and Chiron sleep together, but that doesn't necessarily mean that all will be well. These two men have lived very different lives and there are something you just can't take back. Chiron probably can't just up and leave the drug business behind for Kevin. They haven't even begun to get to know each other. Realistically, Chiron may end up leaving Kevin's house and make his way back to the new life he's created for himself, even though it's not the life he wants to be leading.

So who is Chiron, really? Is he really a hardened drug fiend or is still the sweet young man we previously met? On the outside during his adulthood, he seems quite cold, but he is also somewhat successful in his craft like Duan, his drug dealing father figure. This is especially true as they wear similar gangster styled clothing and gold teeth, but we’ll never know how he turns out. We can only hope for something better, but it’s not as if we really knew who Chiron was in the first place.

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