When Barry Jenkins’ ‘Moonlight’ won the Oscar for Best Picture earlier this year, it was the crowning accolade for one of the most extraordinary films in years. In hindsight, its existence now seems like an inevitability, emerging in the wake of the building demand for more diversity and representation on screen, but the shock that came from seeing it for the first time is one that is almost impossible to shake. In the few months since I first saw it, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this film. That something so profound, so human, so beautiful and so thoroughly devastating exists still feels like a kind of miracle.
‘Moonlight’ captures the childhood, teens and adulthood of Chiron (played by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes), a young black man coming to terms with his sexuality and his difficult upbringing in the poorer suburbs of Miami. Rather than relying on high-flung emotional melodrama and the usual tropes of coming-of-age films, ‘Moonlight’ is a film entirely about restraint, both in the storytelling and in its protagonist. Silent and withheld, Chiron moves through the world trying as hard as he can not to be noticed, to take up as little space as possible. There’s not a foot put wrong at any point in this film, every element falling so perfectly into place that it creates the kind of artistic harmony you only see very, very rarely. The cinematography, score, screenplay, design, editing, performances and direction are all extraordinary, but the cumulative emotional force of the film allows for them to all disappear into the completeness of the film itself. Chiron’s struggle, though very specific, is shockingly universal, so much so that to categorise the film as just a "queer film" or a film about the African-American experience still doesn’t do it justice. ‘Moonlight’ is that rare film that truly transcends race, gender, sexuality and culture to capture so potently the struggle of being a human being, of the need to love and be loved, the need to exist and to be heard.
As the three phases of Chiron, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes somehow manage to create a collective performance of impossible power, and yet are each just as astounding on their own. The significance of their achievement to the art of performance on screen can’t be underestimated. As impressive as the supporting cast is (including Naomi Harris, Janelle Monáe and Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali), the film belongs to Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes. It also ushers in Barry Jenkins as a powerful force in world cinema, his direction of ‘Moonlight’ tremendously delicate, astute and precise. This is the work of a great artist, and Jenkins has established himself as just that.
Now that ‘Moonlight’ has arrived on Blu-ray, there’s absolutely no excuse to not see it as quickly as you possibly can. Watching ‘Moonlight’ is a life-changing experience, a film that aches with longing and need in every frame. It’s unquestionably a masterpiece, and probably the best film of the decade.
PICTURE & SOUND
Visuals and sound are tremendously important to the storytelling in ‘Moonlight’, and thankfully this Blu-ray presentation does justice to the artistry of both. The 1080p 2.38:1 transfer captures the rich colours and textures of the cinematography. Sharpness and detail can occasionally be a bit soft, but I suspect that is inherent in the original image rather than a fault of the transfer. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is even more impressive, a beautifully detailed and balanced track that contributes to an immersive emotional experience.
‘Moonlight’ is that rare film that truly transcends race, gender, sexuality and culture to capture so potently the struggle of being a human being, of the need to love and be loved, the need to exist and to be heard.
The U.S. release of ‘Moonlight’ had annoyingly few special features, but our Australian release doesn’t even carry all of them over. The only video-based feature is ‘Ensemble of Emotion: Making Moonlight’ (21:37), which is an above-average making-of featurette that makes use of behind-the-scenes footage mixed with interviews with Jenkins, the lead actors and the producers. It’s pretty good, but ultimately feels inadequate for a film as enormous as ‘Moonlight’. The audio commentary from Jenkins makes up for a lot of this, the preposterously articulate director speaking extensively and beautifully about all aspects of the filmmaking. Unfortunately, the featurettes on the score and the Miami locations that were on the U.S. disc are missing, tremendously disappointing considering the accolades and cultural importance of the film. Here’s hoping someone like The Criterion Collection offers up a more detailed edition soon.