Moonlight: A Quest for Touch

Posted 17 March 2017


                                            Moonlight: A Quest for Touch

Moonlight, and the journey of Chiron, is a quest for touch: a touch aside from the strain of masculinity that encroaches upon all lives within the narrative. Here, sexuality is desexualised, it reveals itself in a longing for connection and for relation. The intersectional themes of race, sexuality and masculinityare actualised in incogitable strife and hang, heavily, on the black body of Chiron. The heaviness of existing as the nexus of these traits, within a culture laden with expectation, obligation and façade, is moved and pushed on only by the current. As we see Chiron battling the waves, barely staying afloat, hands flailing for something to touch and to hold, the unforgiving nature of the ocean provides no cleansing as it mercilessly propels his life towards the future.

In response to its groundlessness, the narrative is one of clutching and clenching: hands squeezing sand; crying and moaning for stillness and for base; grasping of backpack to chest; eyelids pressed against each other, bracing. There is a tensing, painful pulling of oneself inwards, the relief of which gets lost and only resurfaces in the final touch. There is a waiting, an edging for an embrace that seems to be at the mercy of tides and lifetimes falling away, before it washes up on shore so different and intangible, but touching, yet the same. It is touching that offers the only relief in the film: the light touching of hand on head to keep afloat, touching communicating where words fail, demonstrated so tenderly by Mahershala Ali. In a painful display of awkwardness and rootlessness, the torturous demands of heteronormativity frame masculinity, both as enticing in those who can perform it – the otherness creating its own enigma – andas destructive to those who cannot. To Chiron, man is inconceivable in his assuredness. Beautiful looks and glances at the male body and all its parts veiled in shame and impossibility, an unsubstantiated longing to touch and marvel at, that sets itself apart from any determined sexuality. Barry Jenkins does not need to categorise and define Chiron as one thing or another. Instead, the concept of sexuality melts away leaving only the purest touching of skins and bodies.

As the inevitable maelstrom hits Chiron’s life, almost unbearably in the second segment of the film, he sinks into despondency, quelled only momentarily by the moment of intimacy on the beach that embodies so much in its physical and cathartic release. It feels like a release of everything, so pent up, that has befallen him and has been so outside of his control. Yet from one touch to the next; as Chiron is punched to the floor, a future of repression is sealed. One cannot help being angry at Kev, violating their experience on the beach, punching Chiron with the same hand that pleasured him, then wiped his ejaculate into the sand. Though this anger doesn’t last long. Kev’s pained eyes and pleadings with Chiron to “stay down” stresses that he is a victim of masculinity and heteronormativity within African-American culture, just like Chiron. As the pangs of indignation towards Kev leave, what remains is a stark picture of the ugliness of masculinity and the dangerous lengths that society can go to protect it. 

To be swept away by the demands of masculinity, predominant in a sociocultural background like Chiron’s, is to witness its reversal in the final scenes. Chiron, masked and protected by his faux-character, jokingly mocked by Kev who has shed that like a skin to become a cook, reveals the frail foundation of masculinity as purely fiction, to be forged and hidden behind, mutable and fraudulent to its very core. The demands of masculinity prohibit and delay the saving touch that is shared by Chiron and Kev, which, even in its clarity, cannot reverse the tides of time and make better of emotionally-wasted years. What transcends the film itself is the unshakeable feeling that at its heart, sexuality, in all its ineffable shades, can be traced down to its simple core: a longing for touch. A touch that blurs all strife and struggle into background noise. The power we all hold in our hands and fingertips, skin and body, should not be underestimated, for it can change everything.

Dominic Sims

Dominic graduated from the university of Sheffield with an MA in English literature. Read more posts by Dominic Sims


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