“Who is you?” Transference in Moonlight

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Mesmerizing and inimitable, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is an honest exploration of ambivalence toward normative and racialized identities and the deviance from the labels that seek to define them. In the penultimate scene of the film, Kevin asks of Black, “who is you?” The film itself rejects its own question, resisting specificity in his response. “I’m me,” he says. And “me” contains multitudes, as detailed throughout the film. “Me” is ever-changing, inhabiting many selves as seen in his three names: Little, Chiron, and Black. In the final scene, Little stares out into the water and turns around to face the camera. Illuminated by the moon, he looks both blue and black – and is both Blue and Black. Blue, the aestheticized racial difference as named by the Cuban woman from Juan’s childhood, the embrace of sameness. And Black, the celebrated difference, the masculine manifestation of Juan’s tutelage and Kevin’s naming. In the moonlight, everyone can be anyone. It is a transgressive, liminal space of both darkness and light where one can be different and perceived as different from who you are in the light of day.

The psychoanalytic core of the film lies in Little/Chiron/Black’s attempt to navigate love relations with his ambivalent identities. These love relations, namely Juan and Kevin, also moonlight as his analysts. And as such, they are objects of transference as “induced by the analytic situation,” as Freud describes in his essay on transference (page 379.) As Little, he transfers an absent parental love to Juan, his mentor in black masculinity. Yet the illusion of closeness is shattered once Juan reveals his own alter-ego as a drug dealer, and Little rejects this attachment. The fragmentation of Juan’s identity triggers Little’s own ambivalence, and a subsequent abreaction.

As Chiron, he engages with Kevin on a profound emotional and physical level. Kevin both opens and closes the question of sexuality when he replaces one tender physical act with a brutal one in an attempt to maintain a hyper-masculine cover. Similar to his Little’s relationship to Juan, this transference is muddled by the clashing identities.  As Black, he must conflate these two relationships as he both inhabits Juan’s masculine power as a drug dealer and maintains his undefined sexuality as seen through his lasting tenderness felt toward Kevin. As Freud argues, Black remains attached to his psychoanalyst, Kevin, through a transference love that stems from his power to help him understand the world. In their final moment together, we witness an infantile embrace that holds the hope for answers to a hostile world. Juan has taught him to swim, now Kevin keeps his head above water. Freud remarks, “can we truly say that the state of being in love which comes manifest in analytic treatment is not a real one?” (page 385.) After all, love is love is love is love.