Commentary on Moonlight and It’s Character Development

By John Carter Jr

Spoiler Warning (Watch this movie if you haven’t)

With Topics concerning the black youth, homophobia, and the development of a child in impoverished conditions, Moonlight brings so much to the table. When it comes to cinematography, art, real-world implications, and the conversation concerning what it means to be loved and to be yourself, Moonlight is the perfect medium to deliver such topics and deeper meanings. With great actors like Janelle Monae and Mahershala Ali, Moonlight is the all-around package when it comes to everyday moviegoers, cinephiles, and those looking to develop a newfound philosophical perspective.

The film is about a young boy and his development through different stages in life. The film executes this perfectly and is divided into three distinct chapters of the protagonist — Chiron — and his life. One as a child, lost and innocent,  the second as a teen, learning to understand himself, and finally an adult — one who has grown hard to the world or so it seems.

Chiron, nicknamed “Little”,  is a boy who has a problem associating or socially interacting with his peers. He is different from the other boys but he doesn’t recognize how. From a very young age without understanding what it is, he is referred to as a repulsive slur for homosexual people. Chiron is bullied by the other kids and is at one point chased into an abandoned motel. This is where he meets Juan,  a drug dealer of sorts. He looked at the young protagonist, potentially seeing his youthful self in him, and recognized the child needed a figure to look up to. He identified that Chiron was alone, and became invested in him. Chiron didn’t respond to him verbally but would still follow Juan and even enjoyed a meal with Juan and his girlfriend.

Chiron will go through many different trials and will reach benchmarks that will define or evolve his development, this stage, however, stands as the foundation of who Chiron is as Little. Juan tells Chiron a story about his time in Cuba — this is after teaching him how to swim on his own for the first time. In this stage we see a positive type of development for our protagonist in that he is able to gain independence through his tutelage and him looking up to Juan and his girlfriend. For Juan to teach Chiron how to swim at the beach is an example of how Chiron received some substitution for the parents who were not there. Furthermore this scene is shot as if it were a type of baptism for Chiron, this moment of voluntary vulnerability expresses the beginning of the motion in his development. He is able to be himself when he is with Juan, or at the beach, something to note is that these scenes are shot during the day.

Juan states the titular line when telling his story, “In Moonlight Black Boys look Blue”, over each stage of his life. We will later find out what this means for our protagonist. For “Little” Chiron the quote can allude to a few things. One, that when in the Moonlight not even the darkness of night can cover one’s true colors. This means that for Chiron, even though the world seems to be saturated in darkness, there will be moments where he gets to be himself. Opportunities to exist as who you are, in your purest vulnerable state, will manifest. These moments would be sporadic throughout the film but for “Little” it would be this moment on the beach with Juan.

   In the Second act for film, Chiron is now a high school teenager. We can see the definite differences between “Little” and Chiron.  We learn that Chiron has become closer to Juan’s girlfriend, who has become more of a mother figure to him than his own drug-addicted mother. He is very defensive of his closest relationships in Juan and his girlfriend, Chiron is apprehensive to let new relationships in. During the natural teenage development years, Chiron develops feelings of attraction and understanding of his very specific/unique sexuality.  

He begins a simple yet highly complex love interest arc with Chiron’s friend Kevin.  Kevin could be described as the antithesis to what Chiron represents but the word antithesis doesn’t necessarily do these characters justice. They more accurately represent two complementary characters who are more advanced and are lacking in particular areas of the development respectively.

In the case of Kevin, he is more confident and has a much clearer sense of self. He is willing to be more adventurous and advantageous. When it comes to his life decisions and the things he attempts to experiment with Kevin seems to express a look of unwavering gumption, independence, attractiveness, and (what allures Chiron the most) genuineness.  This is in contrast to our dear protagonist, who is more introverted and shy. He has a struggle with his identity towards himself and seems to be controlled by an external leaning the locus of control. The factors that seem to control Chiron’s life are numerous, abusive parenting, poverty, externalized homophobia, and more importantly — internalized homophobia.

One night when Chiron is alone on the beach,  Kevin shows up wanting to get high and relax with Chiron. They have a deep, intimate conversation about crying, pain, end wanting to end it all. More specifically,  Kevin comments that Chiron looks like the type of guy who has contemplated such dark thoughts. Through their mutually understood schemas concerning emotional hardship and intimacy, they have one rare moment under the moonlight. Chiron is hesitant at first, Kevin less so, but he gives into the intimacy and closeness at the moment in Chiron’s first kiss and sexual experience with Kevin. This would be a defining moment for Chiron as he believes he has found someone who truly understands him and is willing to accept him for who/what he is.

This is a step in development that has allowed him to let another person into his world and sets up two paths for the protagonist. One, in which he wants to be open and connective with the ones he loves,  or rather one that will set him up for disappointment in those you put so much faith in.

From the costume to set design, you can seem to find a specific color scheme set up throughout the film.  Blue is often used throughout the film to express different moments of expressive identity and the willingness to be yourself. In a scene at the school, Kevin and Chiron are wearing complementary outfits. This acts as a sign of their development in that they both recognize that they have a similar and shared understanding of each other. This makes what follows to be completely cruel and drive home the emotions of the film is trying to convey.

I specifically mentioned that Kevin and Chiron happened to be complementary rather than being the antithesis of each other. This is because Chiron and Kevin share the similarity of traits. In the previous description it is easy to make the assumption that Kevin was the only person with positive traits in this friendship but towards the end of the second act, the roles seem to switch in some manners.

Kevin is put into a situation by social obedience that causes him to physically assault his friend and romantic love interest. This shows Kevin’s potential to lose his independence and confidence, the very same guy whom Chiron believe so much in must know just like anyone else. Chiron, however, stands and takes the beatings.

With blue on Kevin’s shirt and Chiron finally bloody on the ground an air of cognitive dissonance is delivered to the viewer. Why would Kevin give in to social injustice and obedience?  This conveys the message that Chiron isn’t the only one controlled by the infrequencies of the availability and opportunity to be in the Moonlight. Sometimes we feel like we are forced back into the darkness. Even the people who seem like they’re always “blue”.  

When Chiron finally returns to school, after cleaning up his bloody face, he’s determined to get vengeance. He is now wearing a completely blue shirt with blue accents of the schools color scheme seemingly amplified Chiron attacks Terrel, the person who peer pressured Kevin. An excellent example of maintaining the theme’s continuity in this film is when Chiron and is taken out of the school by the police. Chiron passes by Kevin at the entrance and sees him being arrested. Kevin gets away with his crime because Chiron keeps quiet, in this scene Kevin is wearing a gray shirt.  

During the final act of the film, Chiron takes on a new persona, the hardened “Black” is the amalgamation and culmination of years of repression and a loss of identity. He has now adopted a similar role or job to that of his father figure Juan. The film goes as far as designing his entire look based on him,  from the gold grill to the crown on his dashboard. After Kevin’s betrayal, the path for Chiron ’s future was not entirely expected but also not entirely unforeseen. outside of the pain and anxiety Chiron experienced, we didn’t get much in terms of the things that he enjoyed and what he did for himself in his day-to-day life. To him, all he had to aspire to was being like Juan.

In the end, however, his hardened exterior is completely evaporated when getting a call from Kevin. This validates the claim that this new role that the protagonist takes is completely superficial. “Black” is not who he is. Take when he receives the call from Kevin for example — when he calls all those years later Chiron, instantly reverts to his shy and nervous demeanor.  

Eventually, he gains enough courage to go to eat dinner with Kevin at a diner that he works at and Kevin talks to him about the fact that this persona was not him. Chiron, after all these years was still willing to be vulnerable with Kevin,  and when he is invited back to Kevin’s house this becomes more apparent.

When they arrive at Kevin’s house Kevin changes into a blue shirt. This signifies to the audience that after all those years Kevin has gotten ahold of who he is as a person again. Now  in the safety and privacy of Kevin’s home Chiron is willing to talk about their past and the film takes a good opportunity to slowly build up to this. For instance, this duet scene is way more drawn-out and has long intervals in between dialougue which adds to the intensity of the words being spoken and their impact on the audience.

They start with light conversation concerning Kevin’s child. Chiron wants to know if he is in a relationship with the mother (Kevin isn’t). The conversation however takes a turn, now focusing on the night on the beach. Chiron says “you’re the only man who’s ever touched me.” This line has impressive impact as the look conveyed on Chiron’s face is painful and carries a sense of longing.

After this interaction we see Chiron Being held by Kevin. They are finally able to be in that pure intimate state again or able to be in the moonlight with each other. The character’s overall development has come full circle, Chiron was finally able to reconnect with the person that he was most intimate with and Kevin was able to become himself again without the influence of his peers.  In a final shot, we see “Little” looking back at the audience, he’s on the beach in his skin has a blue iridescence. Chiron is himself with those who matter to him, the look on his face in the shot is inviting. Will you step into the Moonlight too?

I give this film a 10/10 for its character design, color scheme, and themes — as well as its deep emotional impact.

Moonlight is available on the FHSU Movie Channel

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