By now you know that Moonlight won the Oscar for Best Picture (eventually). I saw Moonlight a week ago but didn’t know how to articulate my thoughts on it then, and still don’t. It’s complicated.
Telling the story of a boy called Chiron in Miami, Moonlight is presented in three distinct chapters. We begin with the young boy, then move to the teen and finally the adult. At each stage we find Chiron battling with his identity and his sexuality. His mother is a drug addict, he feels an outcast wherever he goes. And though he tries to fight the seemingly inevitable tragedy of his life we see that sooner or later it will rise up and consume him.
It’s heavy stuff and it is told with sheer class by director Barry Jenkins. Make no mistake this is cinema in its most beautiful form. The lighting, the angles, the visual choices are made in service of the creation of high art. And high art is achieved. In terms of the visual storytelling I don’t think you could argue a moment is wasted. Moonlight is a thing of beauty.
And yet I never quite connected with it. It felt drawn out because I was never drawn in to the world of the characters, though I wished I could be. I was entranced by the poetry; the use of water as a recurring metaphor for cleansing and rebirth, the striking colour pallet used to juxtapose the world outside Chiron’s mother’s bedroom and the unknown things occurring within it, the slow and deliberate meditations on life and love. It’s all there and all glorious. But I came out really liking, rather than truly loving it.
The start to 2017 has been an embarrassment of riches at the cinema. It makes me wonder if the last few trips I’ve taken (Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea) have almost numbed me to anything less than the high bar I feel those films have set. I also wonder how pretentious that last sentence sounds. Probably far too arty and not enough farty.
The thought that now scratches the inside of my cinephile brain is that I need to watch Moonlight again. So much of what happens in the cinema comes as a result of what you bring in, and maybe I didn’t bring my audience A-game that day. Because as I write about it now I remember all the transfixing moments. I recall the subtly great performances and the eloquent use of music. And I wonder just how the hell I didn’t walk out of there more enamoured.
For now I’ll have to continue to wrestle with myself, knowing that as a technical achievement Moonlight is up there with the best of them, but as a story and an exploration of character, for some reason it lacked what the rest of this year’s best had.