A Critique of Moonlight, a Film by Barry Jenkins

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Updated: Aug 18, 2023
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Among the very best movies of 2016, Moonlight documents the story of a pitifully lonely black boy growing up. The film was well-crafted, and the actors conveyed various subtle emotions, providing much food for thought. I initially watched the film in class, and subsequently viewed it three more times alone, attempting to capture the minor details that I had overlooked the first time around. Of the many things that intrigued me, the way Chiron constructed his identity as he matured affected me the most.

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I realized that childhood is a period when humans develop the main aspects of their identities.

“At some point, you’ve got to decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let anyone make that decision for you.” Juan imparts this wisdom to Chiron in a scene where he takes Chiron to a beach, suggesting that one can choose one’s own identity. However, there are also factors that predetermine your future and identity. Little, who later identifies as Chiron and then Black, had a few influential experiences during his childhood that had a significant impact on his identity formation. We can crystallize Chiron’s identity via three key characteristics: one, he is gay; two, he’s a drug dealer; and three, he appears vulnerable despite his rugged exterior.

It’s not difficult for viewers to discern Chiron’s sexuality. However, I wanted to highlight the events and factors that pegged Chiron as a gay man. Contrary to some homosexuals who are born with their orientation, I propose that in Chiron’s case, Juan and Kevin played a significant role by influencing him to be gay. Juan encounters Little when he crashes through the door of the room where Little is hiding from his friends. It’s highly probable that this was the first time Chiron experienced genuine kindness when Juan discovered Little and took him home. After their initial meeting, Juan takes Little to a few places, and they grow close. Another individual and the only friend from whom Little received affection is Kevin. The fight scene between Kevin and Chiron subtly reveals the underlying emotions between them. During that event, Chiron may have misconstrued his feelings for Kevin. Had Chiron grown up in a normal environment, it would be unjust to suggest that he became gay simply because men were kind to him. However, he was alone to a crippling degree, and even the smallest bit of attention and affection meant the world to him. If the first person to offer him love had been a female, he may not have identified as gay. This idea is reinforced at the end of the movie when Chiron admits, “You’re the only man who’s touched me. I haven’t been touched by anyone since.” This scene prompts me to wonder, “Is Chiron not gay, but simply in love with Kevin?” Regardless, his orientation leans more towards homosexuality than heterosexuality. From this, I inferred that one’s sexual identity can stem from who provides you with love in childhood.

The character’s 2nd identity as Black is as a pusher. As a youngster, Chiron was unquestionably innocent in every way. He hated that his mom was addicted to medication and he suffered as a result of this. Despite the fact that the movie never shows us exactly how he thought about drugs, we can assume that he despised them since they made his childhood harder. The scene when Juan saw Little’s mother in his drug-dealing area was ironic. However, as Chiron morphs into Black, he becomes a drug pusher. Life doesn’t always unfold as we want; yet, becoming a pusher is a huge tragedy for him, given the experiences of his childhood. The closest adults to him, his mother and Juan, who somewhat assumed a paternal role, were all involved in drugs. Even though there was another reason Black became a pusher, those two adults’ influence on him cannot be understated. Children tend to mimic the adults around them, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative, and even if they discern that it is detrimental.

Deep within, Chiron is fragile and vulnerable. Black has a large muscular body, and his gold teeth make him appear tough. However, this guise, which projects a cool, hard persona, conceals his internal scars. He is haunted by dreams of his mom yelling at him, always waking up in a cold sweat. At the start of the film, we couldn’t hear Paula shouting. Yet, when Black relives this moment in his dreams, we can distinctly hear the horrific sound, implying that he is still suffering from his past. We understand that he tries not to think about his awful past, but these memories continually emerge in his mind. Although he masks himself as a mighty man, his eyes betray his emotional depth, revealing a haunted child within. The memories of his childhood, fraught with bullying, remain buried deep within him.

Identity is not something that can be established in a short timeframe. It is rather a prolonged process throughout life, and one can continually change their identity. However, we should never underestimate the enormous impact that childhood has on an individual’s entire life. In the final scene of the movie, Little floats in the sea bathed in blue. This scene symbolizes a multitude of things and is open to interpretation. To me, it seems Little always resides within Black, incessantly reminding him of his past, always in a blue backdrop, constructing his identity. Chiron’s environment and childhood experiences epitomize this: they created the individual he became in adulthood.

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A Critique of Moonlight, a Film by Barry Jenkins. (2022, Dec 15). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/a-critique-of-moonlight-a-film-by-barry-jenkins/