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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Movie Review: Moonlight (2016) and Color, Character Development, Identity and Boyhood

Starring: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders
Directed By: Barry Jenkins
Written By: Barry Jenkins
Release Date: October 21, 2016
Rating: A+

My Thoughts:
In Moonlight, director Barry Jenkins uses everything other than our main 
character to tell his story. Chiron, our main protagonist, is brilliantly 
played by three different actors (Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex R. Hibbert)
 to physically show his development from childhood to adolescence to 
adulthood. However, even though we physically see Chiron age, it’s the film’s 
vibrant color palette that tells us all we really need to know about who Chiron 
is, even though he really doesn’t seem to know himself. Chiron is our central
 protagonist and he rarely ever leaves the center of the frame because of it, 
but it’s because of his quiet nature that we don’t explicitly get the sense of 
who Chiron is and we’re seemingly left in the dark about his identity just as 
much as he is.

The first chuck of the film is titled Little, after a nickname the neighborhood
 kids have given Chiron. In just the first few scenes, we're shown what is 
essentially the essence of childhood. The camera is shaky and it quickly pans 
from child to child as they run around chasing each other and tossing 
footballs around, but Jenkins shows us that there's more to childhood 
than just this playful aspect. This chunk of the film is also about how
 the aspect of identity is introduced to children and how they go about 
creating this image for themselves. Chiron is asked who he wants to be on
 more than one occasion, to which he simply shrugs because at this point
 in his life, he doesn't have to define himself because he's a child and that's 
how it should be. However, while he doesn't feel the need to, society does 
and because he knows no other way to be and no one is telling him that he
 can just be himself, he is whatever everyone else tells him to be and that is 
"Little". The neighborhood bullies not only bully him for being small, but they
 throw homophobic slurs at him as well. As a child not really knowing what
 sexuality is, in one of the film's most heartbreaking scenes, Chiron goes to see
 Duan the drug dealer and his girlfriend, Teresa, who have taken him is a their
 surrogate son, and he asks them what a "faggot" means. While he may not 
agree with their words after he's told what it means, he just takes it because 
he doesn't really know what to do. All he's ever known is other people's opinions
 of him, so he takes the abuse. This is finalized when the boys are looking at
 their genitals in the school bathroom and Chiron walks in. With the camera
 positioned higher, he appears little both to us and the bullies and as the 
scene ends, Chiron walks towards them with his head down in defeat. 

Speaking of identity, Richard Linklater's 2014 film, Boyhood, is also a film
about identity and it's also told from the prospective of a young boy over
different chucks of his life. We see Mason grow like we do with Chiron, however,
Mason's actor stays the same. Like Chiron, Mason is also constantly asked by others
 who he wants to be and like Chiron, he doesn't really have an answer. However,
 unlike Chiron, Mason gets a chance to explore different aspects of himself and
 become the person he wants to be. While the adults ask Mason who he wants to
be in the context of his role in society, he does also grow as a person. Constantly,
 adults ask him who he wants to be in the way adults ask children what they want
 to be when they grow up. Mason wants to take pictures and he has the ability to
 not only do that, but he also have the opportunity to explore other career
options as well, interacting with the people in his life in a somewhat positive
matter. It's not like that for Chiron. When Duan the drug dealer asks him who he
 wants to be, he's asking not in a societal context, but in a more literal one. Does
 he want to be like the bullies at school? Does he want to be tough? Or does he
 want to go on taking these other kid's nonsense for the sake of being nice and
 preserving any sort of innocence he has left. Also nothing really happens in
 Boyhood. There is conflict and there is a point to the film, but the film is not a
 character study as Moonlight is. Mason is not this singular character, he is all of us.
He's a seemingly bland, unspectacular young man, but that so he can easily be
whomever is watching the film. The whole point of the film Boyhood is not to
see the world through Mason's eyes and understand him as a person because his
character is seemingly irrelevant. We see him grow and change, but again,
it's supposed to represent us watching ourselves grow and change.
These seemingly bland situations are relatable to pretty much anyone
 who watches the film, so instead of watching everything unfold from this
young man's perspective, we're watching it from our own as if
we're children again ourselves and that we're the ones growing up on
 the screen. It's meant to be universal to everyone, so that when they
look up at the screen and watch Mason go through life, it's as if they've
 got a second chance at childhood. Chiron's experience is singular in the aspect
that we're watching his life unfold and this is merely his experience.
It's specificity is key in understanding how as humans build our identities
 from childhood, however, just from another perspective and an interesting
 one at that because Chiron's story is one we don't hear about often.

As we move forward to examine Chiron's teenage years, we see that nothing
 much has really changed. The bullies still pick on him and they say the same
 kinds of things they were saying to Chiron when they were kids. However, now
 Chiron has more of an opportunity to become his own person and more of an
 opportunity to stand up for himself. However, because he was denied the
opportunity to try and understand himself at a young age, he now struggles
 with attempting to try and become who he believes he should be now that
he's older. The title of this chapter in Chiron's life is Chiron in accordance to
his struggle to find himself. When he was younger, he was whatever people
told him to be. Now, he longs to get the opportunity he was denied when he
 was a child to become his own person because Little is no longer little. He
wants to be himself. He wants to be Chiron, but instead he becomes someone
completely different.

In the last little section, titled Black after name a nickname Kevin, the boy he
had his first sexual encounter with, gave him. While he thinks he is set in
 his uber masculine identity as a hardened drug dealer, he still isn't happy,
which can be understood via the film's very unique color palette. Color in film
is typically associated with the tone of a scene or the emotions of a character
 in that scene. Take the movie, Inside Out, for example, each of the characters
are literally human emotions and they’re designed after the colors typically
associated with that emotion. Blue is typically related to feelings of sadness
and isolation and not only is blue the color of the character Sadness in Inside Out,
 but it is also the color that paints Chiron’s world, especially during his adult
 years because he now regrets who he's become. 

His mother, a constant negative factor in life, is a drug addict who is never
 seen without a touch of blue to her wardrobe, which ironically consists of
 a nurse’s uniform even though she’s far from caring. Though she appears put
together at times especially even when Chiron meets her after she’s put herself
 in rehab, the blue color in her clothing reminds us of all the bad things she’s put
 her son through and how it could easily come all back if she relapses. During the
 few times where Chiron is at ease, such as the scene where he’s sitting in his
 bathroom, there’s not a stretch of blue to be seen. The bathroom walls are bright
white with pops of yellow tiles as a sign of hope that things will eventually get better,
 but the blues always seem to return. Kevin is one of the few positive people in
 his life. Like Chiron’s bathroom walls, Kevin typically appears in white and puts
 Chiron’s worries at ease when they’re together. However, Kevin is pressured
 by the bullies of the school to beat poor Chiron up and it’s not coincidental
that he wears a blue shirt that same day. It’s after that he’s provoked enough
to turn into the bully that was keeping him down, however, it’s because of
that yellow shirt he’s wearing during the scence that we can at least hope
for a better future for Chiron, but we're merely disappointed when we
see who he's become.

And in his adulthood, the amount of blue we see is intensified. While the
 blues were lighter in tone towards Chiron's younger years, in his adult years,
 the blues are mysterious and dark. They're almost so blue, that they're black
like the name he's given himself. He never got the opportunity to try and be
 himself when he was a kid, so now he's stuck in a life that's not his own as a
drug dealer. When he meets Kevin again, the two chat and catch up. He's
also taken notice of Chiron's new identity and he, too, knows this isn't who
 Chiron was supposed to become.

The last time we met Kevin, he was wearing his bright blue shirt and kicking
the snot out of Chiron. Now he runs a restaurant and he's wearing bright
white, chef's attire like some sort of angel destined to save Chiron and
that's what we assume. However, once they make it back to Kevin's home, they
 chat some more and Kevin suddenly changes into a blue shirt and blue has
already been designated the color of sadness and a sign that something bad is
 going to happen. Afterwards, they have sex and we see the two of them
 together and the film shortly ends afterwards. This could spell out two different
 endings to Chiron's story. He could change and he and Kevin could end up
 living happily ever after because that's what we want for Chiron. However,
 not every story has a happy ending. Kevin and Chiron sleep together, but
that doesn't necessarily mean that all will be well. These two men have
lived very different lives and there are something you just can't take back.
Chiron probably can't just up and leave the drug business behind for Kevin.
They haven't even begun to get to know each other. Realistically, Chiron may
end up leaving Kevin's house and make his way back to the new life he's
created for himself, even though it's not the life he wants to be leading. 

So who is Chiron, really? Is he really a hardened drug fiend or is still the
 sweet young man we previously met? On the outside during his adulthood,
 he seems quite cold, but he is also somewhat successful in his craft like
Duan, his drug dealing father figure. This is especially true as they wear
similar gangster styled clothing and gold teeth, but we’ll never know
how he turns out. We can only hope for something better, but it’s not as
if we really knew who Chiron was in the first place.


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