This post includes a brief summary and an explanation about the ending of the film Moonlight (2016). Beware of spoilers.
Directed by Barry Jenkins, the 2016 drama is based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play: “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”. The main character (Chiron) is played by three different actors (from young to old): Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes.
Moonlight (2016) – Plot Summary
The story follows the life of Chiron during three different time periods of his life: Little (as a child), Chiron (as a teenager) and Black (as an adult).
A little boy (Chiron) runs and seeks refuge inside an abandoned house: he’s hiding from his bullies. A drug dealer named Juan passes by and finds Chiron. He takes the boy to his house and introduces him to Teresa (Juan’s girlfriend). The man lets Chiron spend the night at his place before returning him to his mother (Paula). Juan’s presence bothers Paula, but Chiron continues to see Juan. As the time passes by, Juan becomes sort of a father figure to Chiron.
One day, Juan catches Paula doing drugs in his territory. He scolds her for neglecting her own kid. However, Paula fights back by saying that Juan shouldn’t be selling drugs to her in the first place. During their heated discussion, Paula makes a couple of comments about her son, implying that Chiron is gay, hence, the constant bullying at school. The very next day, Chiron asks Juan a certain curse word. Although Juan is upset by that word, he proceeds to calmly explain its meaning to Chiron. Then, Juan reminds the boy that there’s nothing wrong about being gay and that when the time comes, he’ll know.
The bullying continues throughout Chiron’s high school years. Terrell is one of main bullies, he constantly harasses Chiron for no apparent reason. Meanwhile, Chiron’s relationship with his mother worsens. Paula is currently short of money because of her drug addiction. Desperate, Paula tries to take her son’s money (Chiron’s allowance from Teresa) by force.
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While waiting for his bullies to leave, Chiron stumbles upon an old friend: Kevin. He then proceeds to explain the reason behind his detention (doing intimate acts at the school’s stairwell). That same night, Chiron sleeps at Teresa’s house and dreams about Kevin doing what he has told him at school.
Sometimes in order to escape reality, Chiron likes to go the beach (where Juan used to take him to). At the beach, Chiron stumbles upon Kevin again and they smoke a blunt together. Under the influence, the two friends share their most personal thoughts and their night culminates in an intimate moment together. After that, Kevin drives Chiron home.
The morning after, Terrel convinces Kevin to participate in a game where he has to beat someone (the target was Chiron). Cornered, Kevin punches his friend in the face. He advises Chiron to “play dead” so the game can end faster, but Chiron refuses. As a result, the other bullies jump on top of Chiron and beat him. The violent incident catches the school principle’s attention and she tells Chiron to report his aggressors, but he ignores her advice. Infuriated, Chiron returns to school the very next day and beats Terrel with a chair. This time, the police arrives and they arrest Chiron.
After his release from prison, Chiron starts a new life in Atlanta as a drug dealer. He’s still in contact with his mother who’s now living at a drug treatment facility. Meanwhile, Kevin reaches out to Chiron and invites him for dinner at his workplace. Chiron travels from Atlanta to Miami to see Kevin. While catching up, Chiron learns that Kevin has a child with his ex-girlfriend, and Kevin learns that Chiron is currently a drug dealer. When Kevin’s shift ends, Chiron drives him home.
The two continue their conversation. Kevin tells Chiron that he’s happy with his current life because it doesn’t stress him out too much. Chiron, on the other hand, tells Kevin that he’s been single all these years. The story ends with Chiron in Kevin’s arms, looking back at his past self as Little.
Moonlight (2016) – Ending Explained
The ending of Moonlight doesn’t give away much about what’s going to happen to Chiron or Kevin, but it does give its viewers the feeling that a heavy weight has been lift from Chiron’s heart. Nothing that happens after this encounter with Kevin can undo the past, but at least Chiron can be a little bit more at peace with who he is.
Throughout his life, Chiron had to struggle with two main things: his sexuality and his own mother. Paula has been absent for most of Chiron’s life. Although the woman was physically there, she was never emotionally available for Chiron, which made him resent her for many years. Ironically, Juan, a complete stranger (and far from being a law abiding citizen) was actually the one who prevented Chiron from having a way worse childhood. Actually, Juan and Teresa were the only real parents that Chiron has ever know.
What about Kevin? Who is he to Chiron? A friend, a lover, someone who genuinely cared about him. If Chiron really mattered to Kevin, then why did he beat him? Peer pressure and also the fear that Terrel might bully him too. During that scene, Kevin did tell Chiron to stop resisting so the whole ordeal could end quicker. However, Chiron was already fed up with all of it, hence, his insistence in getting up after falling down. It was an accumulation of many feelings that led to all that anger in Chiron. At that moment, Terrel represented everything that Chiron hated: oppression.
As an adult, Kevin realized that he could’ve done better and spare Chiron from all that violence. However, like many, Kevin was also afraid of bullies, that’s why he went along with that stupid “game”. His thoughts about the whole incident was also a confession that he wasn’t true to himself all these years. The same goes for Chiron. His current lifestyle and image are just a façade. Adult Chiron is not a mean thug / drug dealer, he’s just playing the role so others can leave him alone. No one taught Chiron how to do better, so he just does what he knows.
In a way, both Kevin and Chiron have not been able to be their true selves when they were younger. Nonetheless, as adults, both are somehow trying to make amends. Chiron always lets his guard down with Kevin, because just like Juan and Teresa, he doesn’t try to judge him.
When Chiron admitted that he hasn’t been intimate with anyone ever since his night with Kevin, this man did not hesitate to hold Chiron in his arms. Having said that, Kevin is the only person in this world who knows who Chiron really is, despite of not seeing him for years. Paula, Juan and Teresa knew about Chiron’s sexuality, but they have no idea how much he has endured all these years: not being able to come out as a gay man and not being able to experience love.
The ending scene shows that Chiron has accepted who he really is. The little boy is no longer afraid or running away from bullies. The beach plays an important part in Chiron’s memories for two main reasons: Juan and Kevin. When Chiron was little, Juan used to take him to the beach and teach him how to swim. So the beach is sort of a safe place in Chiron’s mind. In addition, the only time he was ever able to be intimate with someone (Kevin) also happened at that same beach.
So does Moonlight deserve all the hype and accolades? I believe it does. The film has a very simple storyline: it follows Chiron as a child, as a teenager and then as an adult. There are no crazy plot twists in Moonlight. Having said that, what makes Moonlight memorable? The characters.
Let’s talk about Chiron’s mother (Paula). This woman is supposed to take of Chiron and yet she does none of that. Instead, she neglects her own son and steals from him. That alone is enough to deem Paula as a very hateful human being. However, Paula has her own tragic story too: she is an addict. Her crazy and irresponsible behaviour stems from her heavy usage of drugs. When Paula quit her habit, she showed Chiron a completely new side of her: a mother who’s willing to love her son unconditionally, even when he resents or doesn’t love her any more.
That same duality exists in Juan too. This man is the only father figure that Chiron has ever known but let’s set the record straight: Juan is no angel, he’s a drug dealer. So, does Paula have a point when she said that it’s all Juan’s fault for selling drugs to her? Yes and no. Juan is a supplier, he didn’t create the demand. Every “client” should assume responsibility for their own actions and not blame others for their mistakes. Yes, it’s true that by supplying the product, Juan is satisfying the demand, but ultimately, it’s the client who makes the final decision of taking (or not) what Juan has to give.
Kevin is also a very interesting character. On the surface, he’s the typical cool guy: everybody likes him. However, Kevin has his own insecurities too. Throughout his high school years, Kevin just followed what others wanted him to do, instead of making decisions for himself. Aside from Juan and Teresa, Kevin might be only person who actually cared about Chiron. When Kevin made that call, he was trying to make some amends about his past. Deep inside, Kevin regretted for not standing for himself (or Chiron) when Terrel pressured him into that situation.
Moonlight has a very intimate tone to it. Watching the film is quite an unique experience because it lets the viewer follow Chiron’s life closely, almost as if they were reading his personal diary. Last but not least, let’s talk about the soundtrack. The music in Moonlight is amazing and it’s really the cherry on top of cake that elevates the film to another level. Overall, Moonlight is a very noteworthy watch, with fantastic performances.