MOONLIGHT, directed by Barry Jenkins is an exquisitely written and delicately acted tale of how a young African-American boy navigates through the covertness of childhood isolation, into the reticence of adulthood. Three actors portray Chiron at different stages of existence - all maintain the silent presence of a person with a deep secret viewing a world of abuse and neglect with the curiosity of innocence. The young Chiron/aka “Little” (wonderfully acted by Alex R. Hibbert) realizes at an early age, that he should keep the pain and turbulence that is cloaked behind his dark-intelligent eyes hidden - it is best to stay silent and remain an enigma to others. Desire is tucked away from the periscope of one's peers, under a translucent sheet of manhood, thereby avoiding some of the emotional lacerations that kids inflict on one another, particularly if you are “different” and happen to be gay and poor, living in Miami with a drug addicted single mother.
Life changes when “Little”, chased by a group of stone-throwing boys, finds refuge in an empty shack , breathless, curling up on the floor, bony arms flung around his thin body for protection. Juan (the wonderful performer Mahershala Ali), who happens to be the local drug dealer, enters the room and sees this young boy silhouetted against the wall, a small warrior standing erect refusing to utter a word, and an unspoken bond is forged - a connection based on Juan’s memories of his own childhood. “Little”, unwilling to talk, but willing to accompany this tall, powerfully built potential “father figure” to Juan’s house for a home-cooked meal by Teresa ( Janelle Monae), the woman he lives with. Teresa instinctually recognizes a “wounded” child, and provides “Little” with a patina of kindness and warmth momentarily allaying the scars incurred by years of bullying and abuse.
MOONLIGHT gives us some lovely moments between Juan and his pre-teen protege - particularly one involved with learning to swim and the oft-used metaphor of the power of water to cleanse; but this scene is so beautifully filmed that it erases any notion of banality.
In the next chapter, we meet the adolescent Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and witness the anguish of being a loner. Bullies take advantage of those they sense can be tormented and the High School years can be agonizing to a sensitive, fragile young man moving into adulthood. Innocence is slowly eroded; the protective veneer of armor and detachment are easily pierced, yet a sense of wonder remains. Chiron experiences moments of joy particularly in the company of a childhood friend, Kevin (Jaden Piner,) who is practiced in the art of subterfuge and easily glides through his fellow teenagers’ posturing mentality - appearing to be part of a group, but in reality attracted to Chiron’s desolate stillness. Their relationship is restrained, but undercurrents of sexual yearning - the physicality of touch - a tender finger grazing a hand - can transform years of misery and sorrow into the confusion of love.
The last chapter occurs 10 years later when a powerfully built Chiron (alluringly portrayed by Trevante Rhodes,) returns home to Miami - his wordlessness remains, but the years have altered his appearance, and for a moment we believe we are seeing Juan again - the man who helped shepherd “Little” through the turmoil of childhood. Chiron having maneuvered through sphere’s of hate and humiliation, is eventually able to reconcile with those who have previously cracked his world; a mother who could not see beyond her own aching needs, and his former confidant Kevin ( Andre Holland, depicting the sensuous, and elegant, adult Kevin.) A guileless candor belies Chiron’s rugged presence; the passage of time is complex, paving over the self-inflicted wounds of longing, but also re-igniting the desire to embrace the future.