Cinematography is something that attracts the attention of sociologists, aesthetics, art historians, cultural theorists, and everyone interested in the problems of artistic creativity, perception, and means of communication. The perception of a movie is a two-level process, the structure of which includes the direct perception of the viewer and the imaginative perception of the authors. A film is a complex informational sign system that has communicative potential. In general, it is a communication system where elements and ways of connecting them can be distinguished in a message. This paper aims at analyzing communication elements in the movie Moonlight directed by Barry Jenkins such as initiation, openness, non-verbal messages, and self-awareness.
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Moonlight not only depicts a black gay boy from a poor neighborhood but also makes him the main character of the film and builds the narrative around the awareness of non-traditional orientation in society. In the story about an African American boy named Chiron, the plot is divided into 3 periods: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood (Keenan, 2018). In each of the episodes, the viewers can see the boy’s experiences and his difficult life path. The first part tells a story about the childhood of the protagonist and his relationships with peers and his mother who is not at all involved in raising her son. In the second part, the life of a teenager is demonstrated. The main character is going through deep emotional upheavals, quarrels with his mother, difficult relationships with peers at school, his first sexual experience, and betrayal (Keenan, 2018). In the third part, the viewers see an adult and a self-sufficient man who enjoys authority among the masses. However, the mature character is still searching for his self-awareness.
In the film, the concept of a relationship is well demonstrated, not only of the hero with himself but with other people as well. Such an element as initiation is used when Chiron meets Juan and their relationship begins. The film starts with an acquaintance with Juan, a local drug dealer who witnesses how children drive Chiron into an abandoned house (Keenan, 2018). The boy is not talkative and is not going to enter into dialogue with Juan, no matter how hard he tries. He does not say his name or place of residence, and the man takes him to his home, where Teresa, Juan’s girlfriend, gives him dinner and manages to get the boy talking (Keenan, 2018). Chiron refuses to go home, from which they understand that not everything is well in his family. The guy stays overnight at Juan’s home, and in the morning he takes him to his mother, who is not delighted with her son’s new acquaintance. Juan will play an important role in the boy’s life, so initiation is one of the main communication elements in the movie.
Such elements of communication as closedness and openness are vividly depicted in Chiron’s attitude towards people and himself. The boy is closed and not talkative when he spends time with other teenagers. He feels uncomfortable in the company of his peers. However, he is open to Juan since he trusts him. The scene where the man teaches Chiron to swim, and carefully holds him by his delicate hands, like his father, demonstrates the warm and open relationship between them (Jenkins, 2016). Juan is one of the few people with whom the boy feels comfortable. In the scene where Juan instructs Chiron to lie on the water and relax his body, he teaches him not to feel the weight of pretense and masquerade. Juan treats Chiron like a son and tells the boy to be himself and not be ashamed of his sexual orientation. This man helps the main character accept himself when he admits to being attracted to men.
The elements of openness and non-verbal communication are demonstrated in the relationship with his only friend Kevin as well. Kevin supports Chiron and becomes the catalyst for a key event—the boy’s self-discovery. The protagonist trusts his friend who always advises on how to behave and fight back. The relationship between the two boys plays a vital role in the movie. In all three parts, accompanied by the sounds of violin and cello, the fragile and tender connection between Chiron and Kevin grows (Randolph, 2017). There are many non-verbal messages in the movie, especially eye contact between the boys. In the first part, it appears when Chiron touches Kevin’s bleeding cheek (Jenkins, 2016). In the second one, eye contact and touch between the boys, unexpectedly for themselves, become sexual (Jenkins, 2016). In these scenes, visual contact captured their attention for a moment they stopped being aware of what was happening around them. This element is widely used in cinema since when the characters meet someone’s gaze, many cognitive processes are immediately triggered in their brains. Moreover, eye contact creates more trust between two people.
The concept of the self plays a crucial role in the movie, especially in the second part. Self-image, self-identification, and self-awareness are the main motifs of Barry Jenkins’ film. The hero searches himself and wonders what makes him real. Being gay in a white environment and being gay in a black environment are different things. Blacks are much less open or likely to admit their sexual orientation (Randolph, 2017). They are even less likely to be proud of their unconventional nature. They are increasingly hiding it, holding it back, and even breaking it. Only at night, when nobody but the moon is watching, do they allow themselves to be real. That is why the scene in which Chiron stands alone in the moonlight most vividly reflects his knowledge of himself; however, the real Chiron remains unknown, primarily to himself (Jenkins, 2016). Accustomed after emotional trauma to secrecy and silence, as to a shell, and having created an impenetrable masculine image, he comes out only after a thorough check of safety.
Moonlight is the story of Chiron’s childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, full of conflicts with the world around him, himself, his mother, and peers. This movie shows the formation of the image of a man, and the conditions in which he grows up are important. It is astonishing how the director, immersed in the environment of brutal black neighborhood and street children, made a surprisingly sensual, elegant, intelligent film, full of inner music. This is not a pamphlet about intolerance, but quite the opposite: a quiet, tender film about the miracle of mutual understanding. Barry Jenkins used various elements of communication such as initiation, openness in relationships, non-verbal messages, and self-awareness to fully demonstrate the richness of human feelings. Therefore, Moonlight is the realm of emotions that coexist in parallel.
Jenkins, B. (Director). (2016). Moonlight [Film]. United States: A24.
Keenan, E. (2018). Aspects of Moonlight. Cinesthesia, 8(1), 1-8.
Randolph, R. (2017). Moonlight. Queer Studies in Media & Pop Culture, 2(3), 383-388.