There are certain moments in cinema that are so rare they are truly transcendent. The moments in a film which not only awaken our communal senses, but also notify us that we will most likely never have such an experience again. That film which is so daring in its innovation that it cements its place in history for both its execution and sheer audacity.
This once in a generation type of experience occurred recently while observing Richard Linklater’s ambitious Boyhood, a film that had literally been 12 years in the making. Shot on and off for 12 years starting in 2002, Linklater’s film is a living diary of adolescence. The film tells the story of Mason, a lad who we witness grow from gangly boy to brooding teenager to laid back college student. Throughout the years we watch as Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater, who play Mason and his sister Samantha respectively, grow up before our eyes. The changes are often subtle but each new hair cut and facial change ushers in a new stage in life.
Likes flies on the revolving wall that is Mason’s life, we observe the ups, downs and overall mundane activities that come with youth and family. Mason’s mother (Patricia Arquette) and father (Ethan Hawke) are divorced and, at the beginning of the film at least, fit the struggling single mother and deadbeat dad tropes to a tee. As Mason and his older sister endure all the awkwardness that comes with adolescence, we also see the family structure evolve as well. This includes bouts with less than stellar stepfathers and Mason observing his own parents actually grow into responsible human beings.
Boyhood is a film in which the overall experience is more pertinent than the plot. Like the artist Mason hopes to become, Linklater is fascinated with the minutiae of everyday life. Instead of focusing on the conventional rhythms of the big game, he is more interested in what is happening on the sidelines in between plays. It is this naturalist approach that makes Boyhood such a captivating film.
Clocking in at just shy of three hours, there will no doubt be those who will surely dismiss Boyhood as nothing more than a lengthy gimmick. They are wrong. While there is often a fine line separating art and stunts, Linklater never crosses it. He is one of the few directors who fearlessly experiments with the medium of film in a way that manages to remain accessible for audiences.
One of America’s most important, and in some ways underappreciated, filmmakers, Richard Linklater has been redefining how we look at American cinema for the past 23 years. His best works have an uncanny ability to make us reflect on the complex nature of human relationships. We feel akin to the characters in his films because they experience many of the trials and tribulations that we do. One does not need to be born in the 70s to identify with the youthful angst of Dazed and Confused. Nor does a person need to be in a current relationship to connect with themes of love and aging in the Before trilogy.
The same is true for Boyhood.
It is nearly impossible to watch the film and not immediately be transported to a particular moment in our own life. The youthful bravado that came with lying about a first sexual encounter, the quest to find an identity, or the sting of breaking up with one’s first true love are all moments in life we can connect to. The fascinating thing about Boyhood is that, even at 2 hours and 43 minutes, if Linklater had decided to make the film four hours, it still would have felt brief. We are so swept up in seeing Mason’s life, and by extension Coltrane and ourselves, evolve on screen that we are eager to follow him in the stages of adulthood as well.
Of course, as the title suggests, this is not possible. Boyhood is all about a moment in time. Using the art of film as a means to not only document a particular stage in life, but to also try and make sense of it in a unique way. While documentaries, such as Michael Apted’s Up series, have successfully captured the stages of life from childhood to adulthood, Boyhood finds a mesmerizing way to achieve this in the realm of fiction. It is a cinematic achievement not only for its construction, but the emotions it manages to pull out of us. Boyhood is an experience that should not be missed, it is one of the best films you will see this year.