Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight follows the story of an impressionable young boy named Chiron from three different stages of his life. Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight brilliantly captures the diverse nature of a culture too rarely seen in motion pictures.
***WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW***
The first chapter finds Chiron (Alex Hibbert) as a shy and scared boy who hides himself in an abandoned apartment from a pack of bullies. Juan (Mahershala Ali) finds Chiron and takes him under his wing. He gives Chiron the nickname of “Little Man” when he refuses to speak to him, not knowing that “Little” was already the nickname he had. Juan takes Little back to his place where he lives with his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe) and after sharing dinner together, Little opens up to them. The following morning Juan takes him back to his mother Paula (Naomie Harris), who seems somewhat preoccupied that her son didn’t get home last night to sleep.
As Little keeps dealing with his situation at school, one day a boy named Kevin (Jaden Piner) approaches him and asks him why he lets everyone else treat him the way they do. They brawl for a while, but in a fun way, before going their own separate ways back home.
Little continues to hang with Juan, and even learns to swim with him one day at the beach. One night, however, when Juan is making his rounds with his customers, he finds Paula smoking crack. He confronts her for smoking while having a kid alone back home, but sje rebuffs that it’s his own merchandise that she was smoking. Enraged by Juan’s confrontation, Paula takes it out on Little back home. The next day Little goes to Teresa’s place and confesses he hates his mother. He also asks what the word “faggot” means. Appalled, Juan answers that it is a term used to make gay people feel bad and when he asks whether he is one, Juan replies that he could be gay, but never a faggot. “You will know when you know,” added Teresa. But then, Little asks whether Juan sells drugs and if his mother consumes them. He leaves Juan feeling distraught after confessing he did in fact sell drugs. Little walks out on him.
Time passes by and we find Chiron (now played by Ashton Sanders) as a teenager. He still suffers from bullying, especially from a classmate named Terrel (Patrick Decile). His mother has now become an addict and even resorts to sell her body to buy drugs. The only friend he seems to have is Kevin (now played by Jharrel Jerome) and Paula, since Juan died.
One day in school, Chiron is threatened by Terrel that he will beat him up after school. Afraid, Chiron stays inside the school building to avoid any confrontation with Terrel. Kevin finds him fidgeting around the window looking over the main entrance and proceeds to describe in great detail how he had sex with a girl. When Chiron goes to sleep that night, he has a wet dreaming imagining Kevin having sex.
On one night, when Chiron is trying to relax by the beach, Kevin finds him and they share a blunt. After a charged moment where they discuss their ambitions in life and Kevin’s new nickname for him “Black,” the two boys kiss and Kevin gives Chiron a handjob. The next morning at school, Terrel forces Kevin to beat Chiron as a hazing ritual. Not wanting to seem weak in front of the others, Kevin hits Chiron multiple times until a teacher manages to break them up. A social worker urges Chiron to turn over the name of his attackers, but he refuses. Instead, the next day he walks into class, grabs a chair and smashes it into Terrel’s back. He gets taken into police custody and as he is exiting the school, he glares at Kevin who is standing nearby.
Years later, Chiron (now played by Trevante Rhodes) has grown into a drug dealer living outside Atlanta and going by the name “Black.” This is the same life that Juan lived and which he had despised as a kid. His mom calls frequently trying to get him to go visit her, but he just ignores her. One night, thinking that his mother is calling, he answers his phone only to find out its Kevin (now played by André Holland). Kevin asks Black to visit him in Miami where he works as a cook. The following morning Black finds that he had a wet dream. Soon thereafter, he drives over to visit his mother in a rehabilitation facility where he forgives her for her past actions.
When Black finally arrives at the diner where Kevin works at, he feels out of place and surprised by Kevin’s new appearance. They loosen up after a couple of glasses of wine and begin to talk about their lives. They go back to Kevin’s apartment and Black confesses that he has been the only person he has ever been intimate with. It is inferred that they rekindle their romance when Kevin is shown holding Chiron in a tender embrace. The film ends with a shot of Little standing on the beach bathed in moonlight, turning to look at the camera, and then cutting to black.
Overall, Moonlight leaves room for interpretation with its open-ended narrative. There are few films like this, where a culture is shown in a different light that breaks its social norms. It will leave you wanting more, but that is the beauty of it, you can use your imagination to make it up. 🙂
“A young man deals with his dysfunctional home life and comes of age in Miami during the ‘War on Drugs’ era. The story of his struggle to find himself is told across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love while grappling with his own sexuality.”