Moonlight Scene Analysis
Barry Jenkins’s 2016 drama Moonlight depicts a young African-American boy, Chiron, struggling with his sexuality through three stages in his life, early childhood, his teenage period and finally in his adult life, showing how he develops as a person. In this middle, high school period, he begins a secret relationship with another Boy, Kevin. However, a school bully instructs Kevin to beat-up Chiron, possibly assuming something is going on between them, and this is the altercation we see. In this scene multiple production elements are used to reveal things about all the characters, in particular, the two main teenagers, Kevin and Chiron. The use of camera angles and techniques, sound mixing and finally acting all culminate to reveal to the audience the important details about all the characters in the film. Firstly, through the use of camera techniques, director Barry Jenkins reveals many things about the characters in his film. This is shown by the first frame of the scene, with Chiron being shot extremely close, and as the only object in focus for the first 6 seconds, as he walks around the school. This aims to reveal a key aspect of his character. The use of focus on just him shows how disconnected he is with the rest of the people at the school, and how, for him, they all fade into the background. This is supported by the lack of space between Chiron and the camera, as it demonstrates he keeps to himself, and, like the camera, is unwilling to open up or acknowledge the others around him. After this shot, the director employs an unbroken sweeping take of the bully (Azu), circling Kevin while harassing other students. This camera technique, the one take, shows Azu’s place in the school, as he is free to bully and attack other uninterrupted, never stopped, allowed to flow freely through the school doing whatever he wants. The way the scene is shot, with a circling motion, also positions Azu as a type of predatory creature, like a shark, moving around his prey, to make the audience see him as a clear danger. Finally, in the last part of the scene we see the actual fight between the two boys, and once again camera angles are used in a symbolic way. As Kevin hits Chiron over and over, eventually begging him not to get up again, Chiron is never shot from a high angle or shown to be imposed by Kevin, always rising above to be equal with him, even above him towards the end, shown from a low angle. This happens because Chiron never compromises his dignity, always remaining to look Kevin in the eyes to confront him for what he’s done, and therefore is never actually dominated by him, despite being hit multiple times. Secondly, the sound utilized, both diegetic and non-diegetic, contribute to revealing aspects of the characters in this scene. To begin with, as soon as the scene begins we are hit with a dark and brooding score, as well as the diegetic sound, the amplified but distorted noise of the kids around Chiron. This shows us again how disconnected he is from the other kids at his school, he lets their voices drift into the background, as well as the score setting the tone for the scene. We then only hear the words of the bullies, with the rest of the noise again being drowned out, showing us that Chiron is again on focused on only these characters, and has allowed the rest of the kids to fade into the background. This is all underscored by music that, although dark in tone, is not at all frantic, using slow and measured piano notes. This reflects the same Chiron we see represented through the camera angles, someone who is not going to resort to panic or begging, but instead remain calm and measured in the face of his attacker, again to undercut him, and make him feel more responsible for what he has done. It isn’t till Chiron is completely knocked out that the sound loses this calm edge and devolves into warped noise, as Chiron is now completely helpless against these bullies, and can no longer maintain this air of dignity.
Finally, the production element of acting is used to reveal aspects of the characters to the audience. Chiron, played in this section of the film by actor Ashton Sanders, chooses to not face his attackers with a look of fear, instead of keeping a look of calm disdain for Kevin, keeping his chin up and his eyes level. It is Kevin in fact, who looks scared in both his expression and dialogue, eventually yelling at Chiron to stay down so he doesn’t have to hit him again, obviously extremely distressed that he has to do this. Again Barry Jenkins is showing the true power dynamic in this scene, with Chiron being the one who is imposing Kevin, despite the fact that is being assaulted. Acting is also used to further explore Azu’s (the bully) character. It can be seen from his excited expression and mannerisms from the shots we see of him circling Kevin, like when he rubs his hands together, he is anticipating watching Chiron be attacked, and will no doubt enjoy the experience. This shows the audience the cruel nature of his character, and his intense hatred for Chiron. This hatred is explored in the words he uses to describe him later in the scene, using anti-gay slurs and profanity, showing that his dislike may be rooted in homophobia.
In conclusion, Barry Jenkins 2016 drama Moonlight uses multiple production elements to demonstrate aspects of three main characters to the audience, protagonist Chiron and side characters Kevin and Azu. Using a combination of camera techniques and angles, sound mixing and use of diegetic and non diegetic sound and finally acting, Jenkins reveals a huge amount about these characters to the viewer, showing how much can be told through just the technical elements of any piece of film.