So I rewatched Moonlight two weeks ago. I know, self-sabotage at its finest, right?
So many movies chosen for best picture are clear oscar-baits; long shots of acting that arouse no genuine emotion. Moonlight manages to escape the chasm of boredom and pretension and become a genuinely transformative movie. Let’s not ignore the cinematography and score though, because this movie nails every second. The blue and yellow color pallet reflects the thematics and emotion in each scene, leading to some truly gorgeous shots. And the score is flawless, tying into the scenes seamlessly.
The thing is, this movie, at its core, is about toxic masculinity, and how it overtakes the souls of men [especially black men, and in this case queer black men].
“he usually can take care of hisself. he good that way.”
From the beginning, Chiron’s mother enforces his own inner strength and praises him for taking care of himself, not realizing that he doesn’t want to take care of himself – he’s a child who wants a support system, one she can’t and won’t give.
From the beginning, Chiron is emphasized as being a little different than the other boys in his class, not as “hard” and is bullied as a result. This is emphasized in subtle ways, such as in the shot of all the boys about to play soccer, all a little taller and bigger than Chiron. Yet they are all performing masculinity with each other.
Kevin asks Chiron, “why do you let people pick on you. all you gotta do is show these n**** you ain’t soft.” Chiron replies “but i ain’t soft.” Being “soft” is seen as a negative quality, associated later in the movie with being gay. But it’s not even about being gay here – it’s about the characters are not performing masculinity in the right way.
Mahershala Ali, of course, nails his role, and serves as an interesting parallel to Chiron; someone who is clearly loving, caring, kind, and at times very in touch with his feelings, but trapped in a terrible situation.
This act is so excellent, if only because of Ashton Sanders and Jharrell Jerome’s acting. Ashton Sanders is… incredible. He deserved a best actor nom for this. He deserved a best actor win for this.
This scene opens with more between Chiron and his mom, and it’s done so well. Chiron’s mom is worse now, less and less coherent and falling further and further into the haze of addiction.
But where I really love about this act is the later stuff.
“you cry?… nah. it makes me want to.”
The scene between Kevin and Chiron on the beach clearly shows that neither Kevin nor Chiron are really as hard as they pretend to be. Kevin wants to cry – he simply won’t let himself because he thinks it will make him soft or he will be percieved as such.
And then there’s the pivotal fight scene between Kevin and Chiron, which, first of all, is almost unwatchably upsetting. The tragedy of this scene is the idea of performing toxic masculinity. Kevin continuing to hit Chiron even when he clearly doesn’t want to, even when he tells Chiron to stay down and stop getting hit, even when he winces and looks distraught every time he’s not being stared at by the other boys.
6. Even after being attacked, Chiron is told “if you was a man, there would be four other knuckleheads sitting right next to you.” Chiron is blamed for having been the victim, for having been attacked and not fighting back… even though he had four attackers, even though he was being attacked by his best friend who he might be in love with and who he clearly didn’t want to hit.
The conclusion of this act is Chiron finally performing masculinity by fighting back, breaking a chair over the head of the boy who attacked him. This marks a character change for Chiron, who has not really performed masculinity in the way he is expected to for much of the movie. This is a rite of passage for him, but it exemplifies toxic masculinity. Chiron is arrested for this. He severely hurts the other boy. But he has performed what he is supposed to.
“Started from the ground over. Built myself hard.”
“I wasn’t ever really worth shit… never really did anything I wanted to do. It was all I could do to do shit folks thought I should be doing.”
While Chiron has gone one direction, Kevin has finally, finally gone in another. He goes from performing a vision of hegemonic masculinity to performing himself, finally getting a job as a chef and supporting his son, and finally getting up the nerve to call Chiron.
And here is why the third act is so powerful — these characters, who up until now have been forced to perform masculinity, finally get to be vulnerable to each other. It clearly takes a lot of effort, but they do it. And better yet, that is the moment of hope the movie ends on. This is the best movie ending. I want it framed.
I wanted to draw everyone’s attention to that one thing Trevante Rhodes said about Kevin and Chiron, because I truly think this movie is, between all its beautiful symbolism and thematic exploration, a gorgeous love story. It can’t be reduced to any one of those things, and that is what I love about it.
This might be my favorite movie. please send help.
Have you seen this movie? If you haven’t, are you going to watch it? [PLEASE.] Agree or disagree with anything I said? Let me know down below!