Cinema: Moonlight illuminates the screen
December 2016 is an incredible month for films. After Manchester by the Sea and Rogue One, Moonlight is another beauty coming to screens – and one that’s sure to give Manchester stiff competition at the Oscars. Elsewhere, director Christopher Nolan is returning in 2017 with Dunkirk, a film unlike any of his others. For these stories and more, read on:
Film release: Moonlight: The films up for Oscar contention this year are surprisingly light on social issues compared to previous years. There’s Loving, about an interracial couple in the late 1950s, and Hidden Figures, a lighter story celebrating three Black women behind the Apollo 11 launch. Moonlight may be the year’s most socially relevant addition. Like its title, the film is an illuminating reflection of the pressure to be masculine in lower class African American communities. Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, director Barry Jenkins paints a harrowing and realistic
We follow three different chapters through the life of Chiron, a person who grew up struggling with his homosexuality. The chapters (Little, Chiron, Black) are named after what other people call him during that time period. Jenkins structures the story in such a way that we sympathize, grow up, and feel pain throughout a character’s entire life. We first see Chiron being chased by bullies (he’s a small kid, hence his nickname Little). Alex Hibbert plays him in this first chapter, where his mother Paula (Naomie Harris) offers no protection – she’s a crack smoker who merely serves as yet another bully in young Chiron’s life.
He’s taken in by Juan and Teresa, a couple who give him warm meals, a nice bed, and emotional support. Juan is played by Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage), and presents himself as a father figure Chiron doesn’t have. In one beautifully shot sequence (the cinematography is done with grace James Laxton), Juan teaches Chiron how to swim in an ocean off Miami’s coast. The only drawback – Juan is the drug dealer who gives Paula the drugs. Chiron pieces things together in one heartbreaking scene where he asks if he’s gay, and if Juan sells drugs to his mother. It’s a powerful and intimate moment that only a filmmaker of Jenkins’ caliber could pull off with such majesty.
Chiron is played by two other actors as he grows older – Ashton Sanders as a teenager, and Trevante Rhodes as an adult. Each actor fully contributes to Chiron’s story a sense of intimacy and a center point for growth. Jenkins never let the actors meet before filming so that they would not try to imitate one another. Rhodes, as an adult, portrays a sense of brokenness but also resilience that the two younger actors paved the way to. Chiron’s growth arc is vulnerable and so, so real.
Having three different actors does expend the lived-in quality that a film like Manchester by the Sea has, however. In Manchester, the audience feels like they could completely inhabit the world created by Casey Affleck’s character. Because this film is split into thirds, none of the characters portraying Chiron are afforded the opportunity to entirely inhabit, like Affleck. The only character who appears consistently through all three chapters is Paula, who gradually succumbs to addiction and becomes more abusive as Chiron grows. Harris – who has been in just about every movie, including the new James Bond films and Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom – filmed her entire role in just three days, due to prior commitments. That means she had to age herself several decades and through different stages of addiction in just a matter of days. Harris’s tour de force performance is a highlight of the film, and should rightfully garner her some Best Supporting Actress attention.
With Moonlight, Jenkins – in his second feature – has created an entirely intimate world for Chiron, a character struggling to deal with who he is, and society’s perception of him. It’s not an uplifting film; through Chiron, we see just how that disparity can affect a person. But it does prove that happiness can be attained by those who never stop seeking it.
Coming soon: Dunkirk: 2017 will mark the long-awaited return of Christopher Nolan, who last directed Interstellar, one of the most underrated films of 2014 (according to me). Dunkirk will be Nolan’s first straight action film; no dream exploration or Batmobiles in sight. It’s a war film that will be sure to highlight Nolan’s knack for bringing intensity and physicality to the screen.
I’m intrigued to see how Nolan will approach this. Normally his films have a supernatural concept to them. The film will follow the Battle of Dunkirk in France in World War II, and the action sequences look to be as intense and realistic as Nolan’s sequences always are. Will it turn out to be a dream after the top in Inception stops spinning? Probably not (not that that would disappoint anyone). For now, though, this seems to be Nolan’s first foray with an entirely realistic concept, and so far it’s my most anticipated movie of the summer.
Production Notes: Rogue One is another massive success for Disney. The film is on track to gross more than $221 million in its opening week. It’s the fifth film in history to pass $200 million in six days domestically, behind Batman V. Superman, Iron Man 3, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and The Dark Knight Rises. It’s the icing on the cake to Disney’s record-shattering year, earning $7 billion in global movie tickets. The studio released a string of consecutive box office gems, such as Zootopia, The Jungle Book, Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, and Doctor Strange.