Why did I like this so much?: MOONLIGHT

This is part of a (planned) new series of posts called Why did I like this so much? in which I try to analyze my enjoyment with an eye toward learning from great artists to inform my own work. 

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Last night I saw MOONLIGHT, directed by Barry Jenkins, and it was beautiful in a devastating yet hopeful kind of way. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s the story of Chiron, a boy from a Miami housing project, told in three stages of his life: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. After continuing to think about it since then, here are the reasons why I think I liked it so much, sans specific spoilers:
1. Effective minimalism.

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There’s so little dialogue in this film that I kept imagining the script as only twenty or thirty pages long. Yet, there’s an incredible amount of emotional depth to it–far more than a vast majority of movies. Like the image for the film I often saw used in PR materials (above), the story is carried by what’s simmering underneath, what’s unspoken. And what, exactly, is underneath? History (societal, familial, personal) and emotion (resentment, hatred, love, hope). Instead of being revealed through dialogue, this history and emotion is conveyed in small ways: body language, everyday actions, small but meaningful decisions. Then, when something is finally voiced, it feels that much more powerful because we fully understand and appreciate the history and emotion that led to it.

2. Simple goal, hard-fought for.

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At the core of the film is a simple, universal desire: Chiron’s search for love and acceptance. Arguably, I’d say this is the core of most of our individual stories, but Chiron’s search is much more difficult than it is for many. Because of this, we want him to find that love and acceptance so badly. Jenkins, however, wrenches our hearts by not making it easy. The film–at so many times painful to watch–tests the resiliency of our own hope in a way that seems rough to us but incomparable to Chiron’s own experience.

3. #OwnVoices perspective.

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Throughout the entire film I kept thinking about the authenticity of the setting and dialogue. The film is bathed in details that were unfamiliar to me yet felt familiar because of the care in which they were constructed. Jenkins own childhood mirrors Chiron’s to an extent, which he has openly discussed. In an outsider’s hands, though, this same premise would have likely become something steeped in sympathy and negative portrayals of poverty, which likely would have felt offensive. Jenkins, however, understands–and is therefore able to convey–that alongside the ugliness coexist value, beauty, and love.

There you have it: why I liked MOONLIGHT so much, from a writer’s perspective. If you’ve seen it and would like to add some of your own reasons, please feel free to do so in the comments below.

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