I see a lot of movies and I don’t usually write much about them. But the movie I saw last weekend, Moonlight, has really stuck with me and I hope everyone will see it. On the way home, Ann said that she thinks it is an important movie because of the life that the movie shows the audience. Matt wrote on Facebook that “In the end, the effect is profound — a vision of hope not only for the survival of people in difficult times, but of hope, too, for moments of grace, forgiveness, and love.” I can’t stop thinking about it, about one moment in particular.
The movie is comprised of 3 chapters in the life of Chiron in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami . We meet him as an elementary school kid, then again as a teenager, and finally as a man in his twenties. There is one moment in the teen-aged Chiron’s life that I think is apropos of our times. At this point in his life, Chiron lives in poverty with his drug addicted mother, whose erratic behavior, careening from fragility to rage in an instant, is terrifying. Naomi Harris should get an Academy Award nomination for this brilliant portrayal. School is no haven from his home life. A boy named Terrel is the ring leader of a group of bullies who make Chiron’s life hell. Chiron’s only friend is a boy named Kevin who straddles the divide between Chiron and the bullies. I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. So let’s just say that Terrel gets Kevin to betray Chiron. Afterward, the school counselor wants Chiron to give up the name of his tormentor. But Chiron knows that the system, the people in charge cannot change the circumstances of his life. Giving his tormentor’s name to the counselor will only result in more abuse so he stays silent. Instead, he marches with purpose back into his classroom and beats Terrel with a chair. This retaliatory act results in Chiron’s arrest which we learn in the third chapter completely changes his life.
This moment feels like an allegory of our time. It reminds me of the protests after the police killing of a black person. There are people who say that protesting is not the way to deal with the killings. The denunciations are particularly harsh if the protests become violent. But the protesters feel like Chiron to me. What are they supposed to do? In the face of significant injustice, what are they supposed to do? They can’t go to officials. The officials are part of the problem. They can’t use the system of courts and the law. The system is failing them. How are they supposed to respond to ongoing systemic economic and physical violence? I’m not excusing the behavior of the protesters. Like Chiron, they will face the consequences of their actions. I’m just saying that I understand it. I understand their frustration in the face of injustice. Chiron’s story helps me to understand it.
The best fiction encourages its audience to feel empathy towards its characters. Moonlight is one of the best movies of the year precisely because of its unflinching look at the life of its main character. It’s a hard life, a life that hardens him. In the third chapter of his life, Chiron is barely recognizable. But the moments of kindness and love in his life help the little boy he was in the first chapter survive. This “vision of hope” is unforgettable. Watch the trailer to get a little sense of the power of the movie. And then go see the movie.