by Tomi Kolapo
Moonlight by Barry Jenkins is a film seen through the point of view of the main character, Chiron. The film remains in Chiron’s perspective even as the character grows to be a teen and young adult. Over this time, the viewer gets to see Chiron interact with the people around him. Underlying these interactions is the fact that Jenkins makes sure to characterize as a shy, emotionally scarred individual. Thus, it is notable that he is able to form deep connections with some people. Among, the people he interacts with the most, Juan, Kevin, Paula, and Theresa, there appears to be a gender divide in the level of intimacy he has with these individuals. Aspects like the amount of contact, type of contact and color of the scene indicate the connection level difference between male and female. This serves as an indicator of Chiron’s sexuality.
From Chiron and Juan’s initial contact, the closeness of their connection is clear. However, the first notable instance involving physical contact is when Chiron’s mother denies Juan from contacting Chiron. She does this when Juan returns Chiron to Liberty city. Paula moves Chiron away from fist-bumping Juan. A fist-bump is an activity that has to be engaged in by both parts. Thus, it represents mutual affinity. Chiron’s mom realizes the fist-bump represents a connection between the two. Thus, her moving away Chiron represents her wanting to ignore that they have a bond. Or it shows her not giving Chiron a chance to realize he has a link to Juan by engaging in physical contact. Paula realizes the importance of physical contact in the development of a relationship.
However, Chiron’s mother’s rejection of Juan dos does not inhibit them from having physical contact at a later scene. A prominent instance of physical contact is when Juan is teaching Chiron how to float. First, it is important to acknowledge the nature of this activity. It is the type of thing a father would teach a child. The type of physical contact is also indicative of their closeness. Before he lets Chiron go, he is lifting him over water. Lifting is not an activity done to anybody someone likes. It is representative of a close relationship. For example, parents and relatives carry small children, not a random person the like. Also, his touch has to be gentle because he would not want the anxious and fearful Chiron to become tense or to start panicking. Thus, he uses a gentle touch which represents a tenderness. Chiron’s acceptance of that tender touch indicates his comfortability with Juan.
The colors the cinematographer chooses in the floating scene indicates the warmth of the interaction. The scene is noticeable by its blue tinge. Everything in the frame is altered due to the addition of a blue hue. This is not surprising since the scene is dominated by the sky and water which are blue. However, this shade of blue is lighter than what is usually depicted as water. The water is so light it is almost green. Thus, the scene has a softer tone, representing the relationship. By the surroundings appearing lighter, they are less of a menace to young Chiron learning to swim. Instead, they reinforce the pleasantness of the interaction.
Juan teaching Chiron to float
Both the sexual and nonsexual contact between Kevin and Chiron reflects an affectionate relationship. The story first introduces Kevin in a scene in which boys are playing the field. They end up playfully fighting on the ground. Rubbing against someone, while rolling on the ground is not an activity people normally seek. Such a close, constant, uncomfortable touch can only represent extreme emotion. It is either dislike or fondness. Since they get along after the scene it has to be fondness. It has to be this way because people do not want to get so close to someone unless they like them or want to fight them.
The fight between a younger Chiron and Kevin (Fight begins at 2.20)
Additionally, there is a scene of sexual contact between the two males. The sexual contact is implied due to Kevin cleaning his hands with sand and the fact that it follows a kiss. Also, the camera only refuses to show Chiron’s crotch and Kevin’s hand so it indicates that it is near Chiron’s genitalia. Touching genitalia is a touch that represents intimacy. Instead of directly focusing on the sexual act, the camera stays on Chiron’s head on Juan’s shoulder. Thus, the head-shoulder contact makes an already intimate act more personal. It shows that it is done by two people that cherish the sexual contact. A headrest is only done between two people that are comfortable with each other.
When Kevin and Chiron talk to each other on the beach, a hue of blue goes over the scene. The color lightens the setting that should be dark since it is at night. Also, the color adds softness to a discussion that starts going in a depressing direction. They discuss Chiron committing suicide by walking into the water. However, the blue hue that radiates in the scene comes from the connection between the two. It adds optimism to a dark time, which talking to a person of reciprocal fondness causes.
The intimate scene between Kevin and Chiron by the water
Paula (Chiron’s Mother)
Chiron loves his mother out of obligation, but not because they have developed a deep connection. One of the scenes of physical contact is when she yells at Chiron to give her money. During this interaction, she touches him in a stern, firm and threatening way with her hands. In this scene, she tugs on Chiron and hits him lightly on the abdomen. These are all more aggressive physical touching than happens in his interactions with the two men. This type of contact represents a relationship that expects reciprocity. It does not include the gentle touches of the males showing Chiron compassion.
In part 3, while sleeping, an older Chiron dreams of his mom in an angry mood. In this dream, his mom is dressed in a red top as she stands in the hallway yelling at Chiron. While she is yelling, there appears to be a neon pink or purple line around her. The color is one of the least soft and most alarming in the film. It is abrupt and not inviting when juxtaposed with the lighter hues of the rest of the scenes. Therefore, the cinematography is indicating that this may not be the most affectionate relationship. It takes the audience out of the comfortability the lighter tones cause. It reflects the dynamic of the relationship. The scene emanates a lack of mutual comfortability.
The scene with the neon light surrounding Paula
Theresa only ever touches Chiron once in all their interactions once. However, the lack of contact does not reflect a distaste for each other. It does show that they are not linked the same way that Chiron and Juan were. They do not have a closeness in their relationship that requires contact. Instead, their relationship is defined by respect. However, the relationship does not transcend to form an intimate relationship.
The one instance of touch is characteristic of the distance in their relationship. It is a stern touch in which Theresa holds Chiron by the chin and lifts it upward. Such a touch does not reveal affection. It indicates Theresa’s demand or request for Chiron to complete an action. This is confirmed by Theresa’s dialogue, “Stop putting your head down in my house” (Moonlight). This is a more assertive or critical statement than any that Juan makes towards Chiron. It reinforces the level of affinity that the touch indicates.
Theresa lifting Chiron’s head
There are not any distinctive scenes of color between the two. This describes the steady, respectful, but unimpassioned nature of their relationship. It does not stand out as involving a special connection to the audience or Chiron.
With Kevin and Juan, Kevin shows himself to have warm and comfortable relationships with them. These relationships are the greatest pieces of emotional connection in a difficult life for Chiron. The way he allows these individuals to touch him reflects these individuals breaking past Chiron’s hardened exterior. The movie depicts scenes with Kevin and Juan in lighter colors. It reflects the warmth in these relationships. However, he does not have as warm a relationship with the women in his life. Even though it is usually a female character trope that women are warm characters that juxtaposes against harsh male characters. In this movie, he does not have the same fondness for Theresa and his mom that he does for men. With Theresa, he has respect for her, but he does not have a deep connection with her. Kevin loves his mother because she is his mother and only present parental figure. However, they do not profound connection. They cannot penetrate each other’s tough exterior.
The dichotomy between the nature of Kevin’s male and female relationships connects to broader themes in the movie. One of these themes is Kevin’s sexuality and his struggle to discover it. The film indicates that Chiron is not heterosexual, due to other people calling him a “faggot” and his mom blaming his mannerisms for him getting bullied. This is made explicit to the audience by the night on the beach with Kevin and the fact that he returns to Kevin even after the pain he causes him. Thus, the film is providing a signal by the characters he is able to connect with. The film is telling the audience that his inability to connect with women is not only due to the circumstances that Chiron lives. It could be that it is innate in him to form deeper bonds with men like Kevin and Juan. This reflects that Chiron’s circumstances do not totally obstruct him from his essence. His natural inclinations only adjust to manifest themselves in the situation that he lives. His homosexual inclinations make him comfortable with getting close to men.