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Moonlight Ending Explained: A Dilemma of Self-Acceptance

moonlight ending explained Little Kevin

Moonlight is a cinematic masterpiece. Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, the movie tracks a journey of self-discovery and acceptance taken by a young black man named Chiron. 

This article examines the Moonlight ending and how it has been designed to impact the audience. 

The film is divided into three acts, which each depict a significant phase in Chiron’s life.

The screenplay’s final act offers a sensitive depiction of the protagonist’s internal struggle, which leaves the audience wondering what the future holds for him.

Moonlight Ending Explained Chiron

Chiron’s Gradual Transformation

After having witnessed the struggles that Chiron faces as a child and adolescent, Moonlight’s third act depicts the protagonist as a hypermasculine adult male who is unrecognisable to the character that was depicted earlier in the script. 

Barry Jenkins’ use of visual storytelling through the repeated motif of water makes a highly sophisticated indication that although Black has transformed externally, he still carries the torment and trauma from his past. 

Although his face is free from wounds, Black immerses himself into an ice-cold pool of water, which harks back to the same action that Chiron took earlier in the screenplay after he was physically abused by his love-interest, Kevin.

This is a subtle communication to the audience that the scars he bears are psychological and that Kevin’s betrayal has pushed him into a version of his identity that has transformed from that of Little and Chiron.

Black’s Facade: A New Identity

To complement Black’s appearance, his behaviour and demeanour align with a hyper-masculine archetype of the black male portrayed in modern film and TV.

In other words, Black appears very similar in likeness to his childhood role model, Juan, and this likeness only becomes more obvious when we learn that he is also now selling drugs.

One simple action in the script’s final act expresses how Black externalises his inner struggle when he makes his employee move from his seat.

Given the intimacy the audience has with Black’s history, his masculinity is an obvious facade, which is, of course, grounded in vulnerability and denial.

Moonlight Ending Explained Black

The Dilemma of Self-Acceptance

Black receives an unexpected voice message from Kevin, who later invites him to visit the diner where he now works.

At this moment, Chiron’s facade and defence mechanisms are dragged onto the surface of the script, and his internal conflict is made clear through a palpable feeling of indecision over whether or not he’ll meet with Kevin.

This is where Jenkins highlights Black’s central dilemma. In other words, Black must choose between:

1. Responding to the call, which means venturing into pain and torment, though it may provide a road to self-acceptance. Or… 

2. Ignoring the phone call and continuing his life in the hyper-masculine shell he has constructed around him as a means of protection.

This is a hugely powerful dynamic for a character to be presented with, particularly when each side of the dilemma is equally unfavourable.

Moonlight Ending: The Final Interaction

After some deliberation, Black decides to go along to see Kevin, who doesn’t immediately recognise him.

When Kevin finally realises who he is, their embrace is described in the screenplay as “warm, tight, and masculine.”

Black’s demeanour instantly shifts, and a feeling of shy vulnerability permeates his interaction with Kevin.

A really powerful line of dialogue follows from Kevin: “There go that damn noddin’ you ain’t changed one damn bit.”

The subtext of this line expresses the extent to which Kevin is the only character who truly understands that deep within his core, Black hasn’t changed. In other words, Kevin sees past the exterior that Black now presents.

After an initially tense interaction, Black returns to Kevin’s place, where he ultimately strips the false identity he created for himself as the two men embrace each other on the sofa.

Moonlight Ending Explained final image

Moonlight Ending: The Final Image

Once again, the movie’s motif emerges as the sound of rolling waves builds as a backdrop to the scene, which carries the audience into the final image of the script.

This depicts Little looking out over the ocean before he turns back and looks directly into the audience.

With this image, Chiron’s journey of identity comes full circle, as Black allows the vulnerability of his childlike self to emerge from the prison that he has created for himself. 

The final image holds tones of uncertainty and fear, though more importantly, it is also loaded with promise and hope as Chiron accepts the prospect of a future that is truthful to himself.

In this way, the movie’s ending challenges us to consider the complexity of identity and the courage it takes to confront our true selves.

For a deeper dive into the Moonlight ending and to learn how this is all contextualised by the movie’s relationship between character and theme, click the button below to watch my video essay on the screenplay.

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Nick Fore Script Doctor / Script Consultant

Nick Fore is an experienced script consultant who reads screenplays for the British Film Institute.


He has written comprehensive coverage on over 1,000 scripts and has helped screenwriters get their work into development with production companies such as Imagine Entertainment and Screen Ireland. 

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