I saw Moonlight on a snap-decision the day before the inauguration. There was no better time for it.
I found myself driving to the theater alone on that grey Thursday morning. I wasn’t planning on meeting anyone there, but I didn’t mind; if you’ve never taken yourself on a date to the movies, it’s an experience I definitely recommend. There’s just something special about sitting among a small group of strangers and watching the same thing alongside them. It’s a bond that not even a credits crawl can shatter.
The strangers that attended that Moonlight showing together indeed saw something exceptional. Perhaps it was due to how hypnotizingly shot it was, or how poignantly written, or how staggeringly performed, but regardless, from the first moment of the film–during which the camera circles around and around and around Mahershala Ali and his scene partners like some invisible, intricate dance–it became clear that Moonlight would be nothing short of perfect.
There are a number of scenes in Moonlight that have stayed with me, most notably the intimate night on the beach shared between the two main characters (the shot of a clenched fist in the sand comes to mind in particular), the happenings in the diner, and, of course, the baptismal scene in the ocean. Through it all, though, the element that has stuck with me the most is the score by Nicholas Britell.
Here’s a short, seemingly unrelated anecdote that comes to mind when I consider the music in Moonlight: during the stage previews of Meredith Willson’s Broadway musical The Music Man, Willson overheard a woman leaving the theatre who had fallen head-over-heels for the show. As she jabbered away, the woman emphasized that she recalled listening to all of those classic marches from the tuner as a little girl. Of course, the catch here is that all of the songs in The Music Man are original; Willson was heavily inspired by the John Phillips Sousa-esque compositions he himself loved as a child back in his native Iowa, but the fact remained that all of those songs were brand new at the time, and they were all his creations. In that moment, Willson took the woman’s proclamations as some of the greatest compliments he’d ever received, because he had made something that his audience felt they had already been listening to all their lives. He was associated right alongside his heroes, and thus, he was satisfied.
Similarly, while watching Moonlight, I thought that the movie used pre-existing classical pieces under each scene. The music was so haunting and rich and familiar, I made a mental note to research the compositions once I got home. It was only when the credits started to roll and Britell’s name was displayed that I realized I was just like that naively jubilant woman leaving The Music Man–I had been captivated by something so incredible that I swore I had been listening to it all my life.
I think, most of all, that Moonlight is a film that inspires silence. Not the kind of silence in which something is noticeably missing, but rather, a peaceful kind of silence, the kind during which people are inspired to contemplate big questions and listen to the white noise sounding just inside their ears. On the trip home from the theater, I turned up Britell’s soundtrack and drove once more through the grey, armed with an unseen assurance that good things would eventually fall into place.