Moonlight – We Found Love in a Hopeless Place | Cynthia Ruan

I watched Moonlight several months ago and finally decided to write about it. I thought I would just share my complete review for this week’s blog.

Moonlight is definitely one of the most beautiful, most elegantly executed film I’ve ever seen. Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, and based on Tarell Alvin McCarney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, it is a coming-of-age story about a young black man from the hardscrabble streets of Miami. In correspondence to the different stages of the main character’s life and consequently the different names he identifies with, the film is divided into three parts – “Little,” “Chiron,” and “Black.” Chiron has a remarkably high tolerance for pain incompatible with his age. His mother, Paula, is a drug addict. The closest thing he has to a father figure is Juan, a drug dealer whose all-time favorite customer is ironically Chiron’s mother. Kevin, the only person from Chiron’s school who has ever showed him any kindness, beats him up the day after they share an intimate moment on the beach. Yet somehow, as he grows up, Chiron finds it in himself to love the people who never showed him any love when he needed it the most.


The question is how? How can he hold his mother in his arms when the image of her screaming at his face through the pink lit corridor, high, still haunts him every night in his dreams? How can he even walk through the doorsteps of Kevin’s dinner when it was his betrayal that sent him away cuffed behind bars?

“Who is you, man?” Kevin asks the question we are all dying to ask. Coming-of-age dramas never stray away from talks about identity, and Moonlight deals with the issue with exceptional subtlety and tenderness. Many people are surprised by the person Chiron becomes in the third chapter, but Jenkins definitely did not make that decision without discretion. Kevin’s betrayal is the breaking point for him. It takes away his last thread of dignity and submission, the last piece of the old Chiron before the muscles and the gold chains and the drug dealing come along. In the scene where Kevin is beating Chiron up, he keeps telling Chiron to stay down which would be the smart thing to do because then he won’t be hit again. But Chiron refuses. After every punch that Kevin throws, he picks himself up, his mouth bleeding but his head held high, his eyes filled with such rage, determination, despair, and contempt. He is transformed. The “little” that so blatantly asks Juan if he is a faggot, the Chiron that so timidly apologizes after making out with Kevin are gone.

But he wipes the tear from his mother’s face and then from his own. But he tells Kevin “you’re the only man that’s ever touched me,” his lips trembling but his voice so steady, and you can just see the fear and courage and struggle written all over his face. It’s moments like these that make me question if there’s still a tiny part of “little” and Chiron somewhere behind his golden front.

Amazingly, Chiron’s capacity for love is shown the most in the last chapter, after the muscles and the gold chains and the drug dealing have come along. It all make sense now. Maybe you have to be strong to know how to love. Maybe you have to suffer to know just how hard it is to find love. Maybe love doesn’t have anything to do with forgiveness. Maybe “little,” Chiron, “black” can love without forgetting or forgiving, and still say let’s give it a shot. Let’s give love a shot. And sometimes, that’s more than what any of us can ask for.


6 thoughts on “Moonlight – We Found Love in a Hopeless Place | Cynthia Ruan

  1. Yiheng

    Can’t wait to see the film myself! I wonder what you are going to do as a final project. I bet its a project that will draw a lot of interests and attention!

  2. wbdrisco

    I had never thought too deeply into Moonlight as you had here. I was always a fan of the acting and cinematography of the film, but looking at it through the lens in which you present it here certainly make me feel as though I have gained a deeper understanding. Very interesting!

  3. rickyyu1999

    I watched the movie recently too, but didn’t even go nearly as deep as you did with the analysis. Great analysis, I’m really intrigued by some of the points you’ve made.

  4. dexcoengilbert

    This was in my top three movies of the year for sure. I will say, I think Chiron’s moment of transformation was when he used the chair to beat his bully, not when Kevin beat him up. Not to downplay the incredibly sad scene between Kevin and Chiron, I think the chair scene simply turned Chiron into “Black,” the character we see in the third act. Fantastic analysis and you made some insightful points!

    1. cynthiaruan Post author

      I completely agree with you that Chiron’s moment of transformation is when he hits the bully with the chair. I probably should’ve made it clearer in my review, but what I’m trying to get to is the trigger for that transformation, which I think is Kevin’s betrayal. There are honestly so many things that could’ve been the trigger (with his mom’s drug problem and the death of Juan), yet Chiron chooses to let this moment with Kevin to be the moment that sets him off. It clearly says a lot about the place that Kevin holds in his heart.


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