MOONLIGHT AND SCRIPT: Chiron is "tiny, desperate, unwell!"

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2017

Part 2—Unless you read the reviews:
Moonlight has been described as "the best reviewed film of the year."

In her review in the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday described it that way. She then went a bit further:
HORNADAY (10/28/16): Now that it’s arriving in theaters throughout the rest of the country, viewers can finally see what all the fuss is about. And they will see a perfect film, one that exemplifies not only the formal and aesthetic capabilities of a medium at its most visually rich, but a capacity for empathy and compassion that reminds audiences of one of the chief reasons why we go to movies: to be moved, opened up and maybe permanently changed.
To Hornaday, Moonlight is "a perfect film, one that's marked by "a capacity for empathy and compassion." In Rolling Stone, David Fear batted away Moonlight's designation as perhaps the year's best film:

"The truth is that Moonlight would probably be the best movie of any year in which it came out," Fear opined.

Despite uniform rave reviews, Moonlight hasn't been a giant box office success. To state the obvious, ticket sales aren't, and never have been, a measure of cinematic quality. Still, among the nine films nominated for this year's Best Picture Oscar, Moonlight currently stands as least successful at the box office:
Domestic receipts as of February 5:
Hidden Figures: $119,402,095
La La Land: $118,306,924
Arrival: $98,641,635
Hacksaw Ridge: $66,361,363
Fences: $52,716,020
Manchester by the Sea: $43,914,563
Hell or High Water: $27,007,844
Lion: $24,711,674
Moonlight: $19,639,551
Those are the nine Best Picture nominees. For a glimpse of mammoth commercial success, domestic receipts for Rogue One stand at $524 million. Receipts for Deadpool, which made the occasional top ten list, are just under $263 million.

Ticket sales are not a measure of quality. Major critics have uniformly praised writer/director Barry Jenkins for the artistry of his film. With a few reservations which we'll eventually note, we're inclined to agree with them, though only from an amateur observation post.

That said, it's worth asking why the film, for all its critical raves, hasn't sold more tickets. While noting that Hidden Figures and Fences are also "black-themed" films, we'll suggest that Moonlight may have sold fewer tickets because it's protagonist is not only black, but is also poor and turns out to be gay.

Also, because the film has no major, well-known stars (as of yet). Also, because the film will strike some people as deeply, profoundly depressing. That's certainly the way Moonlight struck us the first time we saw it, last Monday.

Is Moonlight depressing? For us, on first viewing, it very much was. Its protagonist, a boy named Chiron, is nine years old when the film begins, and he seems to be deeply traumatized by the brutality, abandonment and abuse which, as we viewers will quickly see, virtually define the circumstances of his life, even at that tender age.

Chiron, who's 9, is being aggressively bullied at school, or at least after school lets out. His mother, a crack addict, already seems to be providing little help or guidance. Her conduct spirals downward through the course of the film.

In the earliest scenes of the film, Chiron is forced to hide in an abandoned town house to escape a group of boys who apparently want to beat him up. He's rescued, and treated with compassion, by Juan, the local drug dealer—and by Teresa, Juan's (somewhat strangely?) somewhat college-y seeming girl friend.

When Chiron is returned to his home the next day, it seems that this may not be the first time he has spent the night away from the home within which he has already been abandoned. Juan couldn't take Chiron home until the next day because he couldn't get Chiron to say where he lived—indeed, could barely induce Chiron to speak at all.

Even Teresa couldn't coax words from Chiron. Therein lies a tale.

Even at the start of this film, at age 9, Chiron is virtually catatonic. Casting ourselves in the role of a shrink, we'd say he seems to be traumatized. It isn't just that he's barely able to speak. He's barely able to take his eyes from the floor in various situations, an act of self-abnegation for which Teresa is still chiding him in his later teen-aged years.

To all appearances, Chiron, age 9, is already traumatized. And how remarkable! Almost fifty years ago, this child was described in a famous book which won a National Book Award.

We refer to Death at an Early Age, Jonathan Kozol's 1967 account of the year he spent teaching fourth grade in the Boston public schools. Kozol's book begins as shown below, with a portrait of one of those fourth grade children.

Back in 1967, Kozol described an 8-year-old boy named Stephen. With remarkable accuracy, he also described Moonlight's fictional protagonist at the (presumably) heartbreaking age of 9:
KOZOL (page 1): Stephen is eight years old. A picture of him standing in front of the bulletin board on Arab bedouins shows a little light-brown person staring with unusual concentration at a chosen spot upon the floor. Stephen is tiny, desperate, unwell. Sometimes he talks to himself. He moves his mouth as if he were talking. At other times he laughs out loud in class for no apparent reason. He is also an indescribably mild and unmalicious child...Nobody has complained about the things that have happened to Stephen because he does not have any mother or father.
Stephen was a ward of the state. But as with Stephen, so too here. At the start of Moonlight, Chiron, whose nickname is Little, is "tiny, desperate, unwell."

He too tends to "stare with unusual concentration at a chosen spot upon the floor." Persistently, he's unable to speak, even to look up from the street, floor or table before him.

Kozol's clairvoyance doesn't end there. Like Stephen, Chiron is "indescribably mild and unmalicious," just as Kozol said. And as with Stephen, so too with Chiron. "Nobody has complained about the things that have happened to" Chiron because, due to his mother's descent into addiction, "he does not have any [functioning] mother or father" either.

(Chiron's father plays no role in Moonlight. We don't think he's ever mentioned.)

Liker Kozol's Stephen, Barry Jenkins' Chiron is "tiny, desperate, unwell." Unless you read our major film critics describing the Jenkins film, where you will encounter few such observations.

Remarkably, Hornaday describes Chiron as "shy and guarded, the son of a loving mother (Naomie Harris) battling an addiction to drugs."

This description seems to look past Chiron's actual state, while giving his deeply unhelpful mother a major upgrade of the heartwarming type.

In the New York Times, A. O. Scott seems to display a similar type of blurred vision. At the start of his review, Scott claims he saw this:
SCOTT (10/21/16): To describe "Moonlight," Barry Jenkins's second feature, as a movie about growing up poor, black and gay would be accurate enough. It would also not be wrong to call it a movie about drug abuse, mass incarceration and school violence. But those classifications are also inadequate, so much as to be downright misleading. It would be truer to the mood and spirit of this breathtaking film to say that it's about teaching a child to swim, about cooking a meal for an old friend, about the feeling of sand on skin and the sound of waves on a darkened beach, about first kisses and lingering regrets. Based on the play "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue" by Tarell Alvin McCraney, "Moonlight" is both a disarmingly, at times almost unbearably personal film and an urgent social document, a hard look at American reality and a poem written in light, music and vivid human faces.

The stanzas consist of three chapters in the life of Chiron, played as a wide-eyed boy by Alex Hibbert, as a brooding adolescent by Ashton Sanders and as a mostly grown man by Trevante Rhodes.
The Chiron who appears on the screen at age 9 is tiny, desperate, unwell. But when he saw the film about which he gushes in remarkably scripted ways, Scott, the son of two professors, somehow thought he was watching "a wide-eyed boy" who would move on to brooding adolescence.

Long ago, Kozol said this: "Nobody has complained about the things that have happened to Stephen because he does not have any mother or father." Reading the many rave reviews penned by our cultural elite, we saw an ironic analogue.

Few of these people seem able to see the things which have happened to Chiron. We see little empathy for this suffering child. Were we instead seeing "empathy" for a favored film's press release?

Few of our critics seemed able to see "the things that have happened to" Chiron. Reading the reviews, then rewatching the film, a question arose:

Why is that?

Tomorrow: What one Canadian saw

19 comments:

  1. If you're getting close to criticizing Chiron's "loving" crack addict mother and absent father, best to back off such déclassé talk. Chiron and others like him are sacrificial lambs for the cause of flattering ourselves as evolved for not noticing the problem or suggesting its obvious, low-cost solution. Wouldn't want to sound like prudes, would we?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello, I am Theresa Williams After being in relationship with Anderson for years, he broke up with me, I did everything possible to bring him back but all was in vain, I wanted him back so much because of the love I have for him, I begged him with everything, I made promises but he refused. I explained my problem to my friend and she suggested that I should rather contact a spell caster that could help me cast a spell to bring him back but I am the type that never believed in spell, I had no choice than to try it, I mailed the spell caster, and he told me there was no problem that everything will be okay before three days, that my ex will return to me before three days, he cast the spell and surprisingly in the second day, it was around 4 pm. My ex called me, I was so surprised, I answered the call and all he said was that he was so sorry for everything that happened that he wanted me to return to him, that he loves me so much. I was so happy and went to him that was how we started living together happily again. Since then, I have made promise that anybody I know that have a relationship problem, I would be of help to such person by referring him or her to the only real and powerful spell caster who helped me with my own problem. email: drogunduspellcaster@gmail.com you can email him if you need his assistance in your relationship or any other Case.

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      2) Lost Love Spells
      3) Divorce Spells
      4) Marriage Spells
      5) Binding Spell.
      6) Breakup Spells
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      8.) You want to be promoted in your office/ Lottery spell
      9) want to satisfy your lover
      Contact this great man if you are having any problem for a lasting solution
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      Delete
  2. I encourage every reader of this comment (all three of you!) to see this wonderful movie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are saying this blog is not a big box office success?

      A hallmark of Bob Somerby across several careers.

      Delete
    2. Why would a blog by a liberal that criticizes the progressive left media be a popular success? The right isn't going to like or recommend it and the progressive left isn't going to like or recommend it. That eliminates about 90% of people on the internet who read political blogs. Liberals come here but there aren't many of those around anymore.

      Delete
    3. There are plenty of liberals around. Many used to read this blog. You can read some of their criticism of Bob Somerby in the comments section at Kevin Drum's site.

      Delete
  3. Trump is well reviewed by the right; however, his poll numbers are bad. Indeed Trump acts traumatized by what is happening to him, he acts unwell. Was Trump bullied as a child perhaps by his father? Trump in his youth was sent to military school by his father, was this emotional and physical abandonment the cause of Trump's misbehavior throughout his life? The bullying of others, cavorting with drug dealers like Joseph Weichselbaum and sex offenders like Jeffrey Epstein, the rape of his first wife, the sexual misconduct towards numerous women, the disregard of the sanctity of marriage. I wonder if Trump's bizarre attachment to men like Putin and Steve Bannon is some form of father hunger.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Trump hasn't acted traumatized in any of the TV appearances he's made since becoming president. Perhaps you are privy to other evidence?

      Trump said his father sent him to boarding school because he misbehaved in school. From what he says when addressing this event, he agreed it was a good decision and makes no effort to deny that his impulsiveness and acting out was such a problem it required the imposition of that form of discipline. It appears he still has those traits but also has the discipline needed to overcome them where necessary.

      Was he hurt by being sent away? Military school is good for some kids and probably served Trump well. In the Fox News special "Objectified" he talks about his father instilling in him a value of always defending himself so this better explains his tendency not to let a slight go.

      Why does Trump respect certain other leaders? Some personalities are Alphas and these people only respect the same. If you're not one, you won't understand.

      Rape of his first wife? Accusations fly in divorce proceedings and most people know enough to dismiss them.

      Do raped women regularly star in pizza commercials with their rapists after their divorces?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvp-XMqnh-g



      Delete
    2. Nice whitewashing, Tom Sawyer.

      Trump down? Yes this is reported almost daily as White House insiders leak their concerns:

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-first-days-inside-trumps-white-house-fury-tumult-and-a-reboot/2017/01/23/7ceef1b0-e191-11e6-ba11-63c4b4fb5a63_story.html?utm_term=.0ea50d12061e

      Trump disciplined? That is laughable. He is the most erratic president we have ever had.

      Yes, I agree Trump is overly defensive, a poor trait for a president.

      No one has trouble understanding ego centric people. Trump's father was domineering and unscrupulous, this and his inattentiveness towards Donald likely led directly to Trump's endless egregious behavior and constant searching for a strong father figure.

      Trump's first wife has mostly held steady with her divorce claim. Trump also has a history of rape denials and poor attitudes about rape:

      http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/07/27/ex-wife-donald-trump-made-feel-violated-during-sex.html

      Delete
  4. I guess the fact that Kelleyanne had already rolled out the massacre bit put a crimp in Bob's plan to go after Drum. But, maybe he's getting his story straight for tomorrow.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Drum's readers (ex-Howler readers) have already
      rolled out the story on Bob.

      Delete
  5. Bob, regarding these statements:

    "That said, it's worth asking why the film, for all its critical raves, hasn't sold more tickets. While noting that Hidden Figures and Fences are also "black-themed" films, we'll suggest that Moonlight may have sold fewer tickets because it's protagonist is not only black, but is also poor and turns out to be gay.

    Also, because the film has no major, well-known stars (as of yet). Also, because the film will strike some people as deeply, profoundly depressing."

    While I don't doubt that these were factors in the film's initially limited release, a closer look at the box office data presents a more nuanced picture.

    You'll find this information at Box Office Mojo - http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?page=weekly&id=moonlight2016.htm

    Moonlight had no hope of competing with the other films you mention when it opened in a mere 4 theaters in October 2016. Since then, its weekly gross receipts increased steadily along with the number of theaters where it was shown. This dipped around the Christmas holidays when it was pulled out of many theaters, then rebounded after more theaters were added, etc. The good news for the filmmakers is that last week it was in the greatest number of theaters yet - 1,100 - and grossed more than any prior week during its release.

    In fact, this past weekend it ranked #19 in gross receipts, just below Patriots Day (#18), a movie about an event no one ever heard of because it was covered up by the mainstream media. Moonlight undoubtedly cost much less to make than Patriot's Day, which stars the near inescapable Mark Wahlberg; thus Moonlight may end up the more profitable film.
    http://www.boxofficemojo.com/weekend/chart/?yr=2017&wknd=05&p=.htm

    ReplyDelete
  6. Torey Hayden, a special ed teacher and expert on elective mutism, has written several books about helping such children, including Beautiful Child, about a girl much like Chiron.

    I haven't seen the film, but it would be a shame if it implied that traumatized kids cannot and are not being helped.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hello Every One Out Here
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    ReplyDelete
  8. Hello, I am Theresa Williams After being in relationship with Anderson for years, he broke up with me, I did everything possible to bring him back but all was in vain, I wanted him back so much because of the love I have for him, I begged him with everything, I made promises but he refused. I explained my problem to my friend and she suggested that I should rather contact a spell caster that could help me cast a spell to bring him back but I am the type that never believed in spell, I had no choice than to try it, I mailed the spell caster, and he told me there was no problem that everything will be okay before three days, that my ex will return to me before three days, he cast the spell and surprisingly in the second day, it was around 4 pm. My ex called me, I was so surprised, I answered the call and all he said was that he was so sorry for everything that happened that he wanted me to return to him, that he loves me so much. I was so happy and went to him that was how we started living together happily again. Since then, I have made promise that anybody I know that have a relationship problem, I would be of help to such person by referring him or her to the only real and powerful spell caster who helped me with my own problem. email: drogunduspellcaster@gmail.com you can email him if you need his assistance in your relationship or any other Case.

    1) Love Spells
    2) Lost Love Spells
    3) Divorce Spells
    4) Marriage Spells
    5) Binding Spell.
    6) Breakup Spells
    7) Banish a past Lover
    8.) You want to be promoted in your office/ Lottery spell
    9) want to satisfy your lover
    Contact this great man if you are having any problem for a lasting solution
    through drogunduspellcaster@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  9. i am giving this testimony cos l am happy My name is Mrs.Lara Mark from Houston,taxes.i never believed in love spells or magic until i met this spell caster once. when i went to Africa in July this year on a business summit. i ment a man called dr. Zuma Zuk.He is powerful he could help you cast a spells to bring back my love’s gone,misbehaving lover looking for some one to love you, bring back lost money and magic money spell or spell for a good job.i’m now happy & a living testimony cos the man i had wanted to marry left me 3 weeks before our wedding and my life was upside down cos our relationship has been on for 2 years… i really loved him, but his mother was against me and he had no good paying job. so when i met this spell caster, i told him what happened and explained the situation of things to him..at first i was undecided,skeptical and doubtful, but i just gave it a try. and in 6 days when i returned to taxes, my boyfriend (is now my husband ) he called me by himself and came to me apologizing that everything had been settled with his mom and family and he got a new job interview so we should get married..i didn’t believe it cos the spell caster only asked for my name and my boyfriends name and all i wanted him to do… well we are happily married now and we are expecting our little kid,and my husband also got a new job and our lives became much better. in case anyone needs the spell caster for some help, email address spiritualherbalisthealing@gmail.com Great Zuma Zuk i thank you very much thank you in 1000000 times.. if not you i would have been losted and wasted thank you. please make sure you contact him for any financial difficulties okay.. What a powerful man such as Dr Zuma Zuk.. he is so much powerful..\\ email him for any difficulties.. spiritualherbalisthealing@gmail.com or whatsapp him via: +2349055637784

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  11. My husband is back and am so Excited My life became devastated when my husband sent me packing, after 8 years that we have been together. I was lost and helpless after trying so many ways to make my husband take me back. One day at work, i was absent minded not knowing that my boss was calling me, so he sat and asked me what its was all about i told him and he smiled and said that it was not a problem. I never understand what he meant by it wasn't a problem getting my husband back, he said he used a spell to get his wife back when she left him for another man and now they are together till date and at first i was shocked hearing such thing from my boss. He gave me an email address of the great spell caster who helped him get his wife back, i never believed this would work but i had no choice that to get in contact with the spell caster which i did, and he requested for my information and that of my husband to enable him cast the spell and i sent him the details, but after two days, my mom called me that my husband came pleading that he wants me back, i never believed it because it was just like a dream and i had to rush down to my mothers place and to my greatest surprise, my husband was kneeling before me pleading for forgiveness that he wants me and the kid back home, then i gave Happy a call regarding sudden change of my husband and he made it clear to me that my husband will love me till the end of the world, that he will never leave my sight. Now me and my husband is back together again and has started doing pleasant things he hasn't done before, he makes me happy and do what he is suppose to do as a man without nagging. Please if you need help of any kind, kindly contact Happy for help and you can reach him via email: happylovespell2@gmail.com call +2348133873774 about his service and web site: http://happyspelltemple.webs.com/

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