I have not been as affected by a movie in years as I was by Moonlight.
How it performs at the Oscars won’t change the truth that it is not only a great film, it’s transcendent.
Zach Hoag’s review is top shelf and far more thoughtful than the review I never wrote. Except this one simple idea: Moonlight is 2016. In a way films rarely capture the entirety of a moment, the scope and magnitude and nuance and anxiety of a singular moment while also feeling eternal and timeless.
Moonlight’s three vignettes of a single life could be at any time of the last 30 years. And they presage our future. The inevitability of our race dysfunction: a responsibility disproportionately treated as equal. The burden a fraction of the population has to hold up the lion’s share.
The race and gender politics are so present and obvious but interwoven are the economics and the brutality of a system of punishment rather than protection. A society so built around safety that it literally destroys lives and becomes a weapon of hatred and violence.
It depicts the power of role models and mentors and kindness and connection and then the pain of persistent loneliness when even these are cut and killed. The measures of humanity we take for granted are auctioned off, not to get a fix, as if drugs themselves are not the method of escape; the active attempt to declare autonomy in a life careening without direction or hope. A car with no breaks, destination, or a functional steering wheel.
What else could be inevitable but the crash?
Moonlight is about more than connection.
It is about the pursuit of connection. But to name only a boy/man’s pursuit of connection displays a basic ignorance of its subject matter and timeliness. Why it would specifically follow a young black boy becoming a man and his exploration of sexuality. Drugs, poverty, family dysfunction.
Why the focus would be on his constant sense of dislocation and survival in this particular way and context. Why we aren’t watching a film about a rural white man as straight and secure as a perpetual southern belief that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery.
It is this story, in this context which so demonstrates the need for connection, not “on both sides” but between those who have no family, no safety at home and those so fiercely protecting their way of life they’d be willing to destroy others’. Between the displaced and those who would not just ignore the plights of the displaced, but actively make things worse for them.
The stereotypes are easy to reach for, the boxes easy to fill, but Moonlight makes them seem so shallow and ridiculous. That our fears (from race relations to the rates of violence) are unfounded while the real things to fear (that children have no protection, food, support) are too easily dismissed.
What divides us today isn’t partisanship but the willingness to see compassion as the main value of our lives. The substance of our dreams. The only way we can be great.
To understand that there is no country without a we. Without compassion, without protecting those failed by other humans and systems, without love, there can be no country. Nothing to protect. Or return.