Before the first frame of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood comes to light, you hear Coldplay’s “Yellow” playing. Moments later you meet Mason (Ellar Coltrane). He’s five years old, and without any care in the great big world which surrounds him he looks up at the clouds, waiting for his mom to pick him up from school. Isn’t that a wonderful beginning? I’d like to think so, like the world is just so ready for Mason to grow up in it, change him, teach him, and give him a perspective to call his own. The only matter is that he’s not thinking about any of these things, conversely he just is, small and content without any knowledge of what the future holds in store for him.
Many are already calling Linklater’s film his masterpiece, and after seeing it for myself I find that it is increasingly difficult to disagree. Boyhood was filmed over a twelve year period, something I’ve never heard of being done before. In this respect the film stands as something original, frankly a blessing in a culture with unrelenting repetition. One may argue that the film’s story cancels out its originality, a story one would say blandly that is merely about life, just with more time taken. Indeed many movies take that greatest of all gifts, life, for their story, but what makes Boyhood different, and more special is not just the innovative and enduring approach, but the raw and un-adulterated picture of growth that has never been represented with more clarity.
It is for this reason that Boyhood is a film for everyone. We are all continuing to grow, to age, to endure through life’s losses and challenges, and relish our triumphs and rewards that follow. Ethan Hawke’s character known as “Dad” claims early on in the film to Mason as he just suffered a gutter ball at the bowling alley, “Life doesn’t give you bumpers!” Boyhood’s painting of life is not just an unromantcized one, but one that diligently attempts to remind and clarify to the viewer that life is hard, and that it’s meant to be hard. One might even say that one who doesn’t understand this has not yet begun to live life, not on their own.
Mason and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) live in a house divided. They live with their mother in financially meager conditions where their mother (Patricia Arquette) is forced to work two jobs, and yet they still struggle greatly. They see their father on the weekends, and while their mother is constantly busy, and worn out, their father is one who while unable to initially gather his life together does try hard to be a dad they can love. Both of them are unable to see each other without sparking argument, which as it almost always does takes it greatest toll on the kids. As children they are a handful, yet between the two parents’ seemingly endless struggles there is never any indication that either don’t love their children unreservedly.
One might argue that without the existence of such conditions, even not comprehensively, that there is thus little for him to relate to in watching this movie, thus discrediting my comment that this film is for everyone. I grew up in a house where my parents struggled with money, who often got up early and worked late, but who despite their fatigue and stress never failed to make time for my siblings and I. One does not have to reflect the familial conditions as penned by Linklater to understand and or appreciate the humble circumstances, conversely one need only realize that no family is without struggle, obstacles, or setbacks. I’ve realized that much of Linklater’s work contains often thorough analysis of either youth or family, and now he has combined both into this beautiful film that is a comprehensive look into everything that makes up a family.
As I watched this movie, and watched Mason grow and mature, I was put back into my old shoes, the ones that come with those most important years of age. I was reminded that it seems like they’re always changing, that they change with you. They get bigger, wider, more colorful, more stylish and more cultured until you’re sure that you’ve found the perfect fit. Boyhood reminds one watching that though he may have a shoe size that he’ll never establish perfection. Boyhood is full of imperfect people in an imperfect world, one that remember “doesn’t give you bumpers.” Like the script of a film which upon finishing may seem so perfect in every way, one realizes life’s imperfection when the characters come into play, and thus that world around them isn’t perfect. So what do you do? You live it anyway.
Mason is not a hero, he’s not spectacular, he’s not unblemished and he’s not always thoughtful or polite, again, he just is. He is a human being, he is capable of error, he is capable of learning, and whatever life is prepared to either throw at or confer upon him he is ready to take because what else are you going to do? Dodge it? By the time one is eighteen one is an adult, ready to learn about independence, humility, and taking the next step. Boyhood is about a young man who by this time can say that sometimes life sucks, but that in the end this is my life and that now, on my own, I’m warmed up and ready for the next chapter.
Boyhood is a special movie, for a number of reasons mind you, but truthfully what makes it so memorable is that it doesn’t feel like a movie at all. It’s something more. What that “more” is I cannot completely describe, so what I will say is that perhaps the reason so many are claiming that there has never been anything quite like this is because of how the movie makes you feel. It makes you feel wonderful, it makes you feel unforgotten and that you have purpose. It warms your heart effortlessly and by its beauty prompts one to not just look at life, but to never forget that it’s yours, and you need to live it.