By Mikolaj Puszcza-Szydlowski – [email protected]
“Moonlight’s” director Barry Jenkins set out an uneasy task for himself: depicting different stages of life of a closeted gay man in a black community.
Violence is constantly present in the character’s life, linked to his racial identity and social status. Arising because of his personal idiosyncrasies and a clear sensibility, he goes against the instinct to survive in this reality. The violence itself does not get much explicit mention, instead we see its long lasting effects.
At times we may get an impression that it is something one could get used to, or at least to be taken into account; one of the main characters disappears suddenly about halfway through the narrative and we never clearly find out what has happened to him. From a conversation between two other characters we can guess that he perished as a victim of some kind of a violent encounter, but much detail is never given.
That is what the entire film feels like.
We witness three stages of life (a child, a teenager and a young man) of a sensitive human being, thrown into an existence in conditions no one would consciously choose. Forced to defend himself from the suffocating violence, as well as given opportunities to release the repressed desires and emotions in small spaces of accidental freedom.
Central to the narrative is a tragic father-son relationship the hero establishes with a man who happens to be his mother’s drug provider. This is perhaps the only evident sign of human warmth that he ever receives, shaping him for better or for worse, turning him into a grown man and allowing to survive the brutality of his world.
“Moonlight’s” strength is that it does not try to politicize, normalize or moralize. If we were looking for an adjective, perhaps as close as we could come to something adequate, would be to say that it humanizes.
It is a space not so much for thought, as for a feeling. Allowing one to understand not what millions of those living the bleak reality of ghettos really feel, but precisely that for viewers unfamiliar to that experience, trying to put it into a consistent, “realistic” narrative is a project doomed to failure.
The only true aesthetic decision for the authors, in order to prevent the contingencies of cinematic realism is to give the form a freeing abstraction. Put into use with a skill of the greatest masters, the film may be the finest example of cinematic expressionism since the German classics of the interwar period.
Moments of trauma are shown in dreamy and deliberately colorful montage. Exterior scenes, as well as moments of motion are conveyed with the usage of very lively handheld camera shots.
The music seems in a way resigned, pulling back, disturbingly neutral in contrast to the events on screen.
The acting is impeccable, with some more recognizable faces at first indistinguishable, perhaps because of the painful truthfulness that the film
emanates with. My own favorite was Mahershala Ali, this role nominated for an Academy Award.
The success of this endeavor cannot be doubted: to those who can relate to the experiences of the hero, the film will be a moving piece of art that they deserve. To those less familiar with it, it is an opportunity to be a more aware and sensible member of modern society where the smallest acts and decisions might have a tremendous impact on a life of someone less privileged.