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A Discussion about Moonlight

Short Version: See This Movie For The Greatest Chairshot Of All Time

Rory Gallagher, Staff Writer

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In my opinion, the purpose of making art is to communicate your emotions directly to your audience. The problem pertaining to why most art is not perfect can then be traced to its specific manner of communication. No thematic message can be ignored, lying in the background, as people will notice its absence, even if they do not understand what is lacking in the piece. On the opposite end of that example, all thematic messages are able to be over-explained to the point that the audience resented them, regretting that they ever paid attention to a piece that treated them like children.

With that fancy talk opening out of the way, let us discuss on why the movie Moonlight completely succeeds in its goal of communicating every feeling brought up to the characters.

Moonlight has been given the somewhat bleak-seeming label of last year’s prestige LGBTQ romance movie by the Hollywood hype machine, which brings to mind devastating tearjerkers such as Blue Is The Warmest Color or Brokeback Mountain. I really want to reassure people that this movie ends as happy as a romance between two good people should. It is not a tragedy, but a standard ‘coming of age’ movie. The main gimmick, however, is that the film takes place around the days surrounding three key decisions in a gay black man’s life, with different actors each taking a chance to represent a theoretical single character. One aspect separates this from most films of this nature; however, and you will notice it almost immediately.

To just say it outright, Moonlight lacks any sort of narration from the title character.

Yes, this movie is like the John Wick of the “It Gets Better” campaign, and it even has two amazingly well choreographed fight scenes to further the comparison. But instead of monologuing relentlessly about how isolated the main character is, the film forces you to watch how each actor physically creates their character. For example, when the character is introduced as a boy, you understand that he is intelligent, and that he resents how a random friendly stranger is messing with him by trying to force him to speak. You see in a phys-ed dance sequence that he relishes being able to express himself through motion, as he smiles far larger than any other time in the film. You also see that he does not understand why he feels the way he does about his best friend, and that he gets uncomfortable when people mention girlfriends around him.

Instead of listening to his descriptions of how he feels, you learn as he learns what it is to be himself. You grow to care about him, and when the third act starts with a completely different version of a formerly shy, sweet kid, you become worried that he has become tougher than he needed to. The audience becomes invested in how a barely vocal character may have become a villain just through well-maintained editing. The action goes from the dire consequence brought on by the most victorious action of the movie, a flashback to his deeply flawed mother insulting him, and an establishing montage displaying that the man playing him could be a conceivable stunt double for 50 Cent while showing his new criminal lifestyle.

Currently, the Oscars have yet to air, but I reserve every right to complain if Moonlight doesn’t win either Best Editing or Best Cinematography. When it comes to camera movement, I want a film to be as inventive as possible, and Moonlight bounces the camera around to capture every bit of body twitching. After looking up the cinematographer, James Laxton, his involvement almost makes me interested in watching those terrible new Kevin Smith Canada-xploitation movies, but just almost. However, the already award-winning editors Joi McMillon & Nat Sanders are just as important, with Sanders’ most well known prior work, Short-Term 12, having been an underhyped independent masterpiece that helped last year’s Best Actress, Brie Larson, break out into the Hollywood mainstream. The editing work uses beautiful reflections of light off of wetness, exact starts and stops of songs, and most inventively, playing recorded lines while using a first person shot to show the audience how our main hero is looking at the person trying to talk to him. Even the sound mixing deserves a commendation for finding the exact security system that makes three beeps when you open a door. I don’t even know what company makes that, but thanks to working at Starbucks, that noise makes me feel like the restaurant in a film was a real place that would give me anxiety every time the door opens.

Oh, and actors were in the movie, and it had a director. Barry Jenkins did an fantastic job on creating only his second movie. Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes each brought something unique to the main role, with the awkward teenager portrayed by Sanders connecting most to me in particular. Mahershala Ali just won a Best Supporting Actor award for his performance as the world’s nicest drug dealer. Naomi Harris is by far the scariest and most pitiable mother put to screen in the last 20 years. Jaenelle Monae could become the next EmmyGrammyOscarTony club member at the rate that her movie and music careers are going. Everyone else was also pitch-perfect, and I just don’t want to overload you with names.

In closing, Moonlight teaches everyone not only a message of tolerance, but a message of how to communicate with someone who does not talk well. All too often, those comfortable in social situations attempt to force the shy into talking by filling a silence that does not actually signify a lack of communication. The people who care the most in this movie recognize that the man who goes by Little, Chiron, or Black says all that he needs to with just a couple of words and a single expression. If you take one thing away from this review, just remember that in the next conversation you have, try to let a silence sit. You will hear so much when nothing’s being said.

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A Discussion about Moonlight