Wednesday, February 1, 2017
OSCARS 2017: Moonlight (2016)
Moonlight" everyone keeps talking about? Even after reading up on it, I thought “Moonlight's” Oscar chances weren't great. A queer themed indie starring mostly unknown? Seems too highbrow for the AMPSA voters. I guess positive reviews are worth something, as “Moonlight” is liable to win at least one or two Awards at the end of the month.
Being based on a stage play, “Moonlight” neatly breaks down into three acts. Each section shows a different part of the life of a young black man. As an effeminate kid, he's called Little. His mother is a crackhead and he finds an unexpected father figure in her drug dealer. As a teenager, he's called Chiron. He is relentlessly bullied at school, while internally struggling with his sexuality. As an adult, he's known as Black. Now a successful drug dealer himself, he is haunted by reemerging faces from his past.
Another thematic concern of “Moonlight” is the deliberate contrast between the macho exteriors of its characters and the sensitive souls they hide. Chiron has to get tough to survive. By the time he emerges as the final act's Black, he's closed himself off to everyone. Chiron's status as a gay man is hinted at early on, when he wrestles too closely with a childhood playmate. In high school, his friend Kevin tells him he's good at keeping secrets, seemingly already aware of the boy's inclinations. (Kevin himself projects a macho bravado, bragging about his sexual conquests, that hides a secret.) Chiron's first sexual encounter directly leads to a violent beating, suggesting to the boy that he needs to hide his feelings. The film indirectly criticizes the masculine mindset, that associates toughness with violence and emotion with weakness.
As a gay coming-out story, “Moonlight's” approach is measured. Chiron has a series of erotic dreams, neither of which are explicit but instead are artfully shot. His encounter on the beach with Kevin is mostly seen in extreme close-up, focusing on unfurling hands, belt buckles, and intertwining lips. The final act has the two encountering each other again, years after the ugly circumstances of their initial falling out. This sequence also carries out the detached tone, as Chiron keeps his emotions close to his chest. Until the eventual, cathartic outpouring of pent-up feelings. Even that is paused and quiet but ends the film on a meaningful note.