“Why do you always let people pick on you, man?”
“What you mean?” “You always letting them pick on you.” “So? What I gotta do?” “All you gotta do is show these niggas you ain’t soft.” Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, who struggles with his identity while growing up in a harsh environment dominated by narrow standards about what it means to be a man. Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette observe this struggle with the ‘masculine identity’ as a universal crisis in our present-day society. “We’re the middle children of history, man.” “No purpose or place.” “We have no Great War.” “No Great Depression.” “Our Great War is a spiritual war.” “Our Great Depression.. is our lives.” They looked at men’s stereotypical behaviors and noticed that they are all boys pretending to be men. Boys who’ve become this way because nobody showed them what a mature man is like. So, what is a mature man like? In the book ‘King, Warrior, Magician, Lover’, Moore and Gillette attempt to answer that question by examining four archetypical energies within the masculine psyche. Just like Joseph Campbell once presented The Hero’s Journey as the archetype for stories. Moore and Gillette did the same for the masculine psyche and conceptualized The King, The Warrior, The Magician and the Lover. In doing so they’ve created a universal roadmap to help struggling men free themselves from harmful stereotypes to become more well-rounded mature human beings. Now they’ve adapted their concept for women as well in which the King is changed to the Queen. But for those who are interested in a more thorough feminine take on these archetypes I’d recommend books like The Hero Within by Carol S. Pearson or Goddesses in Everywoman by Jean Shinoda Bolen. Anyways, I want to use this perspective to analyze Moonlight because I like how it suggests that beyond Moonlight’s highly specific intersectionality of race, gender, social class and sexual orientation, there are deeper archetypes at play that we all share and can all relate to. The archetypical energies are structured as pyramids as they evolve from boyhood into manhood. At the top, the archetype is lived in it’s fullest potential, at the bottom the archetype is experienced in a bipolar dysfunctional form, with an active and passive pole. This is also referred to as the Shadow form of the archetype. Two key points are: one – all four archetypes are present in each person, two – no one is perfect. Everyone is to some degree experiencing the Shadow forms of the four archetypes. The importance lies in providing insight into dysfunctional behavior to help rectify it to some degree. Now, I’m going to focus on one of the archetypical energies which I believe is especially relevant in Moonlight: the archetype of the Lover. Moore and Gillette define the Lover, by whatever name, as the primal energy pattern of what we could call vividness, aliveness and passion. The lover in his fullness is deeply sensual, sensually aware and sensitive to the physical world in all its splendor. He feels compassionately and empathically united with all around him. He not only sees the world in a grain of sand; he feels it is so. He wants to touch and be touched, physically and emotionally. He recognizes no boundaries, and wants to experience the world in its totality. He feels the joy of life, as well as the painfulness of being alive, both for himself and for others. All of us, when we stop doing and just let ourselves be, and feel without the pressure to perform, are accessing the lover. In Moonlight we see this aspect of the lover symbolized through the breeze that is present in the brief moments where Chiron accesses his lover. “That breeze feel good as hell man.” “Yeah it do.” “Sometimes along the way where we live, you can catch that same breeze,” “It just come through the hood, and it’s like everything stop for a second…” “’cause everyone just want to feel it…” “and everything just gets quiet, you know?” Historically however, religious traditions and cultural norms have often suppressed or, in the case of promiscuity and homosexuality, even persecuted the Lover. This depreciation of the Lover, which we can still see in today’s culture, is an important theme in Moonlight, and it starts in boyhood. The Lover archetype in manhood arises from the Oedipal Child in boyhood. Chiron struggles with many issues in his childhood that contributed to the suppression of his inner Lover, such as the hyper masculine environment and the condemnation of his sexual orientation. “What’s a faggot?” But one issue that I’d like to focus on, one that is also an important element for the Oedipal Child, is the relationship with the mother. In the mother the child finds the origins of what can be called spirituality. Moore and Gillette emphasized that the boy looks at his mother and doesn’t just see his actual mother, but senses through her the Great Mother; the goddess of infinite love and nurturing. In time, the boy learns to separate his real mother from the godlike being he believed her to be. But when this doesn’t fully happen however, or happens in a dysfunctional way, the child can experience the Shadow form of the archetype. Chiron’s relation with his mother is clearly dysfunctional. Instead of receiving love from his mother, Chiron was deprived of it. This is most likely one of the causes for his slipping into the passive Shadow pole of the archetype, which is called the Dreamer. The Dreamer causes a boy to feel isolated and cut off from all human relationships. When other children are playing he may wander off, dreaming his dreams. To the world around him he appears withdrawn and depressed. Moore and Gillette argued that the Dreamers’ depression masks a hidden resentment against the failure of connecting with his mother, that can be carried over into adulthood. “Don’t look at me!” Chiron as an adult is a man who has conformed himself to the notion of masculinity that was forced on him since boyhood. Like the only role model he had as a child, he is now a drug dealer living behind a mask of toughness. Completely out of touch with the Lover in his fullness, Chiron is possessed by the Impotent Lover, the passive Shadow of the Lover archetype. The Impotent Lover experiences his life in an unfeeling way, and may describe symptoms which psychologists call ‘flattened affect’; a lack of aliveness and emotional expression. He feels cut off from himself and from others, alienated from the world around him. He has trouble sleeping and trouble getting up in the morning. In short: he has become depressed. Even after all these years Chiron’s relation with his mother still seems as a loveless one. Notice for example how his mother’s phone number is saved as Paula and not ‘Ma’ or ‘Mom’ or ‘Mother’? A small detail hinting at his refusal to fully acknowledge her as his mother. When he eventually goes to visit her, he expresses what seems to have been under the surface for a long time… “No, no, no, you gon’ listen!” “To who Ma, huh?” “To you?” “Really though?” He finally receives what has been denied him when he was young. “I love you Chiron…” “I do” “You hear?” “Do you hear me Chiron?” “I hear you Momma.” This is still far from a happy ending, but we do see Chiron opening up to the lover archetype, which leads to the final act of the film, in which he goes to visit the only man who he has opened up to before. The scene goes on for about 20 minutes until Chiron is finally able to truly express himself. “You’re the only man that’s ever touched me.” “The only one.” Accessing the Lover makes us feel related, connected, energized, compassionate and romantic about our lives. It gives us a sense of meaning. It allows us to shine. The attacks on our vitality begin early in our lives leading to many of us repressing the Lover until it becomes very hard to feel passionate about anything at all. We may even think that our feelings are annoying encumbrances that are inappropriate a man, but as Moore and Gillette argue: “let us not surrender our lives, let us find the spontaneity and joy of life inside ourselves.” Then not only will we live our lives more abundantly, but we will enable others to live as well. Perhaps, even, for the first time.