THE LIGHT OF THE MOON: A Stunning Foray Into A Sensitive Subject
Feeling both vitally important and imminently personal, The Light of the Moon is as remarkable as its title is poetic - and twice as powerful.
Two people lie in a bed. Framed from above, their bodies are intertwined with each other as they lie together in silence following a moment of passion. In most films this would be a fairly innocent, simple moment – perhaps used to bridge two scenes together. In The Light of the Moon, though, this image (shown below) becomes a whole lot more.
The Light of the Moon
Jessica M. Thompson‘s stunning debut feature film tackles rape and the effect it has not only on the victim, but on the victim’s present relationship with her boyfriend. Bonnie (Stephanie Beatriz) is raped on her way home from a night out. She goes home, tells her boyfriend Matt (Michael Stahl-David), and the pair of them go to the hospital to inform the police and have any safety exams performed. When they return home, Bonnie tells Matt she doesn’t want anyone else to know of what happened to her and insists she’ll pass the bruises on her face off as a mugging.
In fact, even this isn’t entirely accurate – Bonnie doesn’t tell Matt straight away either, not until the hospital when the examiner asks if the “mugger” sexually assaulted her. Thompson‘s script is seamless in the way it builds Bonnie’s night entirely without tension, even in the seconds immediately before the assault takes place. There’s nothing to suggest anything will happen to Bonnie on her short walk home, which makes the moment it does happen even more harrowing.
A Tonal Masterclass
The film boldly refuses to shy away from the brutality of rape, a topic frequently attempted in cinema but rarely depicted with the stunning sensitivity and powerful honesty of The Light of the Moon. Bonnie is left with scratches and bruises on her face for the rest of the film, a permanent reminder for her, for Matt, and for the viewer as to what she has been through. There are no subplots to the film either, aside from character defining moments like Bonnie’s talk with her mother the film never tries to water down its story with something lighter.
What makes this even more impressive is that The Light of the Moon frequently begins to feel like a pleasant watch. Its depiction of Bonnie and Matt is heavily infused with a conventional rom-com vibe: Matt brings her breakfast in bed, the pair laugh and drink wine together, they lightly argue about each other’s parents. But Thompson‘s script, ingenious in its rhythm and pacing, sharpens back down to the truth every time things start to feel as if they could be on an uptick. She never lets us forget what film we’re really watching, and always highlights the importance and vitality of what she’s doing here.
Thompson takes on this sensitive subject as if there’s nothing sensitive about it, and the result is truly astonishing. In one of the film’s most delicately balanced moments, Bonnie makes a joke about the aftermath of her rape only for it to upset her boyfriend. The Light of the Moon is as much about how the assault affects Bonnie and Matt’s relationship as it does Bonnie’s state of mind, crafting two versions of the same story simultaneously without one ever feeling half baked. Thompson spent time before the film listening to stories from friends and attending support groups, and this shows in the script – there’s a heartbreaking realism to her writing here, it refuses to shy away from the truth.
The Power of Three
Beatriz, known predominantly for her comedy work on television series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, gives a truly knockout performance here. The way she fuses with the film’s repeated tonal shifts is simply incredible to watch, her entire body language able to shift from happy and upbeat to something much sadder and more delicate demonstrates a real talent behind her comedy fame. The way she pauses before asking key questions to the future of Bonnie and Matt’s relationship, her quivering voice when everything finally threatens to derail in the film’s final act. If The Light of the Moon had bigger studio support and a wider release, it isn’t hard to picture Oscar bells ringing for Beatriz here – this is a sublime, career defining performance.
Stahl-David is clearly given less emotional material to play with than Beatriz, but his performance is nonetheless intricate in how he toys with our perception of Matt. Thompson‘s script wisely never turns Matt into a villain character – he’s never worse than a boyfriend trying to do the right thing but with very few ideas of how to do so – and Stahl-David captures this tone perfectly. He sells the well-intentioned honesty of Matt’s quieter moments just as well as he portrays the cheery boyfriend trying to reinforce a positive male influence in his girlfriend’s life.
While both of the performances are terrific though, it’s Thompson herself that comes away with the biggest crown. Her script covers an enormous range of emotional tones in a streamlined 90 minutes, yet they all feel fully captured and fleshed out. Her direction comes across as simplistic and un-flashy, but a number of shots really stick with you after the film has ended – she captures the silences between words just as powerfully as she writes the words themselves. For any film maker this would be a unmitigated triumph, but for a debut feature this is nothing short of masterful.
The Light of the Moon isn’t a film you forget easily. It takes on a global issue and acts as if it’s something small, resulting in a film that feels both vitally important and imminently personal. Bolstered by two stellar lead performances and marking a real talent in upcoming director Jessica Thompson, The Light of the Moon is as remarkable as its title is poetic – and twice as powerful.
Did you find The Light of the Moon one of the better films to depict sexual assault? Let us know in the comments below!
The Light of the Moon is out in the USA on November 1st. For all international release dates, see here here.
“The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it.” Read the Letter of Solidarity here. Make a donation to the legal fund here.