One night last weekend, Mary Cate and I rose from the table, put on our coats, and moved towards the front door. I checked my watch and hesitated.
“Maybe we should wait a while. If we leave now, we’ll be unspeakably early.”
She nodded, blearily. She was tired, never mind that it was just before 6:00 on a weekend. It had been a hard week. So many emotions swirling around – the impossible high of our wedding, the impossible low of the election. Mainly, we both just felt worn out.
So we sat back down at the table, coats on, and silently read in the semi-darkness for twenty minutes.
“I don’t really feel like going out tonight, to be honest.”
And then we giggled like newlyweds about how old and married we suddenly seemed. Last week was a confusing time to be alive.
We finally persuaded one another to get up and go, thanks in no small part to the sentimental value attached to our destination. We were headed to the new Alamo Drafthouse movie theater in Brooklyn, the first New York City location of one of our favorite Austin institutions. We spent many happy evenings at various Austin Alamos before moving north – it’s one of the places we miss the most.
So we rode the 2 train down to an unfamiliar stop and settled into our seats in time to order some food and try to perk up. The lights dimmed, the movie started, and something unexpected happened. We experienced a rebirth of hope.
“Moonlight,” directed by Barry Jenkins, is the story of a young black man in southern Florida coming to terms with life and love. It is an achingly beautiful movie, slow and sensual, full of tight close-ups and tender silences that speak volumes. It tirelessly challenges its viewers to check their assumptions – about poor people, about black people, about gay people – yet it does so with incredible tenderness and compassion.
The film is divided into three chapters, each driving towards a critical moment in the life of its protagonist. We are introduced to Chiron as a quiet nine-year-old boy, intent on distancing himself from his abusive mother. Chiron speaks very little and somehow manages to say even less, but he eventually opens up to an exuberant classmate called Kevin, with whom he is to share his first sexual experience in Chapter Two. We are re-introduced to Chiron as a hardened drug dealer a decade later, now intent on distancing himself from everyone, self included. Yet this third chapter is perhaps the film’s most expressive, with Chiron and Kevin tentatively navigating an awkward and intimate reunion in a diner booth. “Moonlight” opens with a child whose life is just beginning, and closes with a man about whom one could say the same thing. It is a portrait of hope and of selfhood, of lost years and new beginnings, of sameness and transformation.
Technically, it is flawless. The camera-work is lush and smooth, the tone at once authentic and poetic, the soundtrack peppered with a provocative blend of classical, jazz, and hip-hop. Its greatness rests on the shoulders of its writers and its director and the six young actors who step into the roles of Chiron and Kevin and dance through the film in a spellbinding triple-duet.
But its ultimate power lies in its message – one of love and acceptance of the self and of others. “Moonlight” would be great in any year, but in 2016 it feels imperative. If there’s one thing that the events of November 8th proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, it’s that America suffers from an incredible paucity of understanding along racial, social, and religious lines. Stories like “Moonlight,” if they find an audience, can help heal some of the cracks along those lines.
We walked out of the theater a little taller than we walked in, united by an unspoken understanding. The conversation would come; for now we wanted to savor what we had just taken in. Was there really ever any question of whether we wanted to go out?
See this movie to remind yourself why it’s important to keep fighting. See it to pick yourself back up off the ground. See it to better understand how it feels to be oppressed. See it to challenge your own prejudices. If nothing else, see it for its spectacular acting and directing. Just make sure you see it.