Moonlight ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Growing up is hard. Growing up black is harder. Growing up black and poor is harder still. Growing up black, poor, and gay is about as hard as it can get. And yet time in its cruelty forces you to go through with it, terrible though it may be. Moonlight is split into three main sections, following a poor, gay, and black boy through his development and self-discovery.

In each stage of the film, we see Little/Chiron/Black make some kind of advancement in his understanding of himself, and face some kind of consequence from the harsh environment around him. He finds a safe place as Little (Alex Hibbert) and a blessing to grow up however he chooses, but sees his mom fall into addiction. Chiron (Ashton Sanders) learns about intimacy and has his first sexual experience, but a series of altercations with his bully lead to his arrest. And Black (Trevante Rhodes) feels he has been trapped into dealing drugs himself - continuing the cycle by rejecting his sexuality and embracing performative masculinity - but in the film's final tender moments is finally able to admit his feelings for another man, and accept himself for who he is.

Moonlight is quite simply one of the finest films you will ever see. It has incredible performances and cinematography, and a beautiful structure whereby each section feeds into the next and reflects on what came before. The throughline that takes you from Little to Black is clear and natural, and the influences or import of the previous sections are noticeable in the latter ones. As Black he is clearly emulating his father figure Juan (Mahershala Ali), but it is Juan's admonition to never let anyone else define you that lets him finally open up to both his mother and his lover.

Moonlight never forgets that life - particularly a hard life - is full of both beauty and tragedy. We see the influences that create Black and the incidents that scar him, and the camera treats both with love, empathy, and understanding. It congratulates him on his triumphs, but does not condemn him for his failings. It looks at the boy and sees the man he could become, and it looks at the man and sees the boy hidden inside.