I’ve made my peace with the disappointing and sexless second-to-last shot in Barry Jenkins’ otherwise satisfying and stirring triptych, Moonlight, not because of the film’s deserved but bizarrely won Best Picture Oscar, nor because I’ve changed my mind about that shot’s coyness or its misguided minimization of gay male desire. No, it’s because I’m comforted to discover I’m not the only one to feel this way, though I’ve yet to read any pro critic making a peep about it. That alone should tell us something about the limitations of Jenkins’ occasional universalist impulses, and those of critics who mention universalism as an automatic virtue. I say, well, it depends.
After a conversation with a straight male friend who saw the film with me, I recognize the value of being able to talk about whether or not any of my assertions are true, and to entertain the idea that getting a good fuck, or seeing one, or just a passionate kiss, can be just as important, as life-affirming, as receiving platonic affection and acceptance. Or indeed that in certain contexts one without the others represents, at best, a capitulation to sentiment or heterosexist propriety, or at worst, a kind of neutering. I think that’s what Andrew Garfield was getting at in the Hollywood Reporter Actors’ Roundtable discussion, when he asked, with genuine disappointment but good humor about the film’s ending, Where was the action? and all the straight male actors around him laughed and seemed to more or less agree.
That’s what that second-to-the-last shot in Moonlight showed me. Jenkins, as a self-professed “active ally of the LGBTQ community,” was no doubt acting in good faith by not ending the movie with a hot sex scene between Chiron and Kevin, or “at least a kiss,” as two other of my straight Venezuelan friends said. I can hear his reasoning: love is about more than sex; Chiron should not be reduced to his dick. Well, I agree, but he has one so don’t cut it off, either. Why imply that there’s a dichotomy? Director Chucho Quintero said on Twitter that most of the third act, intertitled “Black,” is basically hot foreplay, and it is, full of slow-burning sexual tension. So where’s the money shot? Did Chiron get in his car after a phone call from Kevin and travel all the way to Miami from Atlanta for a headrub?
Don’t get me wrong; I love Moonlight. It’s the only recently released film that I can say held me enrapt until the end. I may get around to a detailed shot analysis, since there’s plenty to write about and I haven’t seen much of that in any of the reviews I’ve read. At the moment, though, I’m content to just let the two viewing experiences linger in my head like a luminous memory of somewhere I’d never been before. I will say that despite the by-now universal acclaim it’s received, much of which has focused on its cultural significance, I suspect that none of us have even begun to account for the richness and depth of Moonlight’s accomplishments as a [personal] work of art.