Moonlight Ending, Explained
Barry Jenkins’ second project, Moonlight, made a significant impact when it was released in 2016. It broke records by winning Best Picture at the Oscars and earning a spot on the prestigious Sight and Sound greatest movies of all time list. Notably, it became the first LGBTQ+ film to win the award, the first film with an all-Black cast to win, and achieved this success with a relatively low budget.
Moonlight’s uniqueness lies in its specificity, allowing it to resonate with a wide audience beyond what is typically considered universal. In an interview with the BFI, Jenkins explains that unlike filmmakers like Spike Lee, he is able to focus on a specific aspect of the Black experience rather than carrying the burden of representing the entirety of it.
Typically, independent films of this scale find moderate success within the arthouse community. However, Moonlight’s critical acclaim and widespread viewership attracted interest from outside the indie bubble. As a result, its slightly elliptical and enigmatic storytelling may have left some viewers confused about the conclusion of the story’s arc. Whether you’re looking for a clear understanding of the ending or a deeper analysis of its meaning, this article provides an explanation of what happens and why.
Moonlight is divided into three sections, each depicting a different stage of the protagonist Chiron’s life. It begins with Chiron as a child, nicknamed Little, who lacks parental guidance and struggles to comprehend why he is bullied by other children. When he encounters Juan, portrayed by Mahershala Ali, he finds a mentor figure who offers guidance that his mother cannot provide. Juan teaches Little to swim, discusses Black identity with him, and answers questions about a sexuality that Little is not yet aware of. This period of Chiron’s life is marked by sadness, self-discovery, and a connection with his newfound father figure.
The story then transitions to Chiron’s teenage years, where he explores his sexuality and masculinity. Kevin, a classmate who has always been on the periphery of Chiron’s life, becomes a catalyst for both journeys. Unlike their classmates, Kevin shows friendliness and interest in Chiron. This section of the film sees Kevin becoming Chiron’s first kiss and sexual experience. However, the intimacy is short-lived as Kevin is instructed to physically harm Chiron, intertwining Chiron’s experiences of sexuality and violence.
Finally, we witness Chiron as an adult, now going by the nickname “Black.” He has become a drug dealer, embodying a masculinity that seems distant from his previous selves. However, when Kevin unexpectedly invites him to visit the restaurant where he works, Chiron’s true self becomes evident. Their reunion allows them to share the events of their lives since high school, and Chiron confesses that Kevin is the only person he has ever been intimate with. The film concludes with a scene of the two men sitting together, reminiscent of their time on the beach where they shared their first kiss. A flash of Little on the beach further adds depth to the final moments.
At its core, Moonlight is a beautifully told coming-of-age story that explores identity, specifically the intersection of sexuality and masculinity. One of the film’s strengths lies in its three distinct sequences, which effectively build depth and momentum. Despite different actors portraying Chiron in each time period, the screenplay and performances maintain a sense of continuity, illustrating that Chiron’s past selves are still a part of him.
The final third of the film showcases Chiron’s evolution, initially appearing as though he has changed the most. The nickname “Black,” given to him by Kevin, holds immense significance, surpassing his real name. When Chiron confesses that Kevin is the only person who has ever touched him, it becomes evident that his teenage self’s anxieties still play a significant role, despite his tougher exterior.
The film’s ultimate image of Little at the beach in darkness is a powerful representation of all three stages of Chiron’s life. It signifies Chiron’s willingness to embrace intimacy and the connection he has yearned for, which his mother could not provide. The ending of Moonlight brings together all of Chiron’s stories in a conclusive and impactful moment, highlighting both his transformation and continuity.
In conclusion, Moonlight is a remarkable film that tackles themes of identity, sexuality, and masculinity through its poignant storytelling. By delving into specific aspects of the Black experience, it resonates with a wide audience. The film’s ending ties together Chiron’s journey, demonstrating his growth while acknowledging the lasting impact of his past selves.
Barry Jenkins’ sophomore project, Moonlightmade waves upon its release in 2016. It became a record-breaking Best Picture-winner at the Oscars and later joined the Sight and Sound greatest movies of all time list. Just a few of those records include being the first LGBTQ+ movie to win the award, the first movie with an all-Black cast to win, and having the lowest budget of all the winners (when adjusted for inflation). In Moonlight’s specificity, it becomes the kind of movie that resonates with more people than something more easily perceived as universal. Speaking to the BFIJenkins discusses how “it’s different than in the days of Spike [Lee] because he had to shoulder the burden of the entirety of the Black experience,” and now he can, “drill down to a very finite piece.”
Usually, an indie movie of this size would find moderate success among arthouse frequenters, but Moonlight’s huge acclaim and viewership led to interest from outside the indie bubble. As a result, the movie’s slightly elliptical and enigmatic storytelling — in comparison with major blockbusters — could have left some viewers confused about the conclusion of the story’s arc. Whether you’re interested in understanding exactly how the movie wraps itself up, or looking to dive deeper into what it all means, here’s an explanation of exactly what happens and why.
What Happens at the End of Moonlight?
Moonlight is divided into three sections, each of which depicts a different stage of the protagonist Chiron’s life. He starts as a child nicknamed Little, who lacks parental guidance and is struggling to understand why he is picked on by other kids. When he meets Mahershala Ali’s character, Juan, he is taken under his wing and given some greater guidance than his mother is able to give. Juan teaches Little to swim, talks to him about his experience of Blackness, and answers questions about a sexuality Little doesn’t yet know he has. It’s a period of his life that has much sadness, but also self-discovery and connection with this new father figure.
Next comes Chiron’s teenage years in which he is leaning into self-discovery, both of his sexuality and his masculinity. The catalyst for both of these journeys is Kevin, a classmate who has been on the peripheries of Chiron’s life so far, but is now coming closer. Kevin is friendly with and interested in Chiron in a way that opposes with most of their other classmates. This section of the movie finds Kevin becoming Chiron’s first kiss and sexual experience and almost immediately after, Kevin is instructed to hit Chiron and he follows through. In this way, Chiron’s experiences of sexuality and violence are intertwined.
Lastly, we see Chiron as an adult, going by the nickname “Black.” At this point, he has become a drug dealer and appears to embody a kind of masculinity that seemed so far from him in the previous sections. However, as soon as he receives an unexpected call from Kevin inviting him to visit the restaurant he works at, it’s easy to see the Chiron in him. When he reunites with Kevin they share what has happened in their lives since they last saw each other in high school, and eventually, he confesses that Kevin is the only person he’s ever been intimate with. After this, we see the two men sitting together much the same as they did on the beach where they kissed, and we are shown a flash of Little on the beach.
What Was the Point of Moonlight?
Moonlight is a beautiful, simply told coming-of-age story with a focus on identity, or more specifically sexuality and how that intersects with masculinity. One of the movie’s greatest strengths is the way it uses three distinct sequences to build depth and momentum. Since there are different actors for each time period, it would have been easy for the movie to feel disjointed upon each change, but due to the strength of the screenplay and the performers, it’s always clear that Chiron’s old selves are still part of him.
This aggregation of identity can interestingly be seen most strongly in the final third of the movie where it, at first, seems like Chiron has changed the most. The nickname that he uses in this section, Black, was given to him by Kevin. Although it originally made him nervous to receive this kind of affectionate gesture from another boy, it has now become so significant it has eclipsed his real name. Moreover, when Chiron tells Kevin that he’s the only man that ever touched him, it’s clear that Chiron’s anxious teenage self is still a huge part of him, despite his much tougher exterior image.
Perhaps most significantly, the final image of the whole movie is Little at the beach in the darkness. This comes just after Chiron and Kevin embrace in the same way they did as teenagers, which adds yet another layer. Through these two shots alone, all three stages of Chiron’s life are represented. In this last moment, Chiron has opened himself up to a kind of intimacy and being known that he has been afraid of his entire life but always craved. Little is finally receiving the gentle love and connection that his mother was unable to provide through this companionship with Kevin. The point of Moonlight’s ending is to tie together each of Chiron’s stories in a conclusive and powerful moment displaying how Chiron has both changed and stayed the same.