We’ve all seen it: A story so easily accessible to everyone that it is in fact about not a one of us in particular.
Fortunately, Moonlight dances marvelously around this dreaded curse of relatability.
The value of a movie about something universal is obvious, but the fear is something so sterilized that it challenges no one and nothing enough to make a…. wave.
SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW
Scene: Juan dips young Chiron under the water, and in doing so baptizes him into existence as a man.
In a movie filled with so many memorable moments (and further, in a movie where the greatest impact often resides in the subtlety) the scene described above was truly symbolic of the project as a whole.
Moonlight has resonated because of its quality as human parable, but its storylines offer insight into what it means to be Black.
An uneasiness with masculinity, fatherless homes and the legacy of crack addiction – while none of these exist only in the Black community, their importance to one who wishes to understand Black America is clear.
We can all find ourselves within Moonlight, but not all of our stories are the same. It’s in this balance that Barry Jenkins delivers greatness.
Once again, where Moonlight succeeds is in the subtle.
It isn’t Chiron’s lack of a father, it is the power of his surrogate that shapes this story.
It isn’t (only) the way Paula is absolutely owned by crack that matters, it is the conflict of the good men who become entangled in this ecosystem as well.
Finally, there is a theme which some may miss the totality of: Masculinity.
While the theme of masculinity is clearly presented for discussion in the supposed counterpoint of homosexuality, it is also present in the role masculinity plays in family roles and in the tolerated and not-so-tolerated forms of violence that populate this film. For example, does (adult) Chiron seem a man because of his chiseled build, or is the donning of this armor really just another way of hiding from society’s accusations of some underlying femininity?
“Being a man” is not a uniquely Black concept, but it is a conflict that is key to understanding anything deeper about the community.
If the gorgeous cinematography and understated dialogue are what make Moonlight memorable, it is the way it balances universal themes with these distinctly Black examples that will make this story valuable (and a Film Lit darling) for years to come.