Boyhood

It’s hard to describe why I loved BOYHOOD so much. I’ve always liked Richard Linklater’s movies. The BEFORE SUNSET films with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy appeal to my sense of romanticism. WAKING LIFE was trippy, intellectually and spiritually adventurous. BOYHOOD is something different. 



By now the premise is well documented. Linklater filmed BOYHOOD with the same cast over a 12 year period, chronicling the childhood and adolescence of a boy named Mason. Mason is played by Ellar Coltrane. We as an audience get to watch Mason (and Ellar) grow up before our eyes. It’s fun to think about how fiction and real life might have intersected. Did Linklater write Mason as a shaggy artsy type because that’s who Ellar grew up to be? Or did Ellar grow his hair out every year for filming? How do you keep a character true and alive if you’re only filming a few weeks a year for 12 years, or most of your life in Ellar’s case?

It seems to me that the only way this could work (and it does work) is for the actors and Linklater to have kept this story and these characters alive in the back of their minds, hearts and lives for 12 years. To give the story credit, the movie is more than a gimmick. It’s a clear-eyed look at an ordinary life made extraordinary by our ability to watch it all go by like time lapse photography. It’s a boy raised with his sister by his single mother, trying to stay connected to his sometimes absent father, and struggling to navigate a few new step-families along the way. It’s very boring on paper. Not much “happens” along the way. There are few BIG MOMENTS. He just lives his life. So why is it so compelling?

I’ve been trying to figure out why such a simple story (with such an admittedly novel twist to the production) made such an emotional connection with me. I think I finally figured it out. They say when you die your life flashes in front of your eyes. It’s a nice thought, comforting. But probably also disorienting to have so much emotion condensed into such a short time. BOYHOOD is kind of like having someone else’s life flash before your eyes. And while it’s not your own, you still feel some panic and bittersweet anxiety at how fast it all passes by. By the end, you’re so proud of who Mason grows up to be, you almost forget how sad you are that he’s not still that innocent little boy. He had to grow up. We all do. 

I have a son, a bit younger than Mason is in the beginning of BOYHOOD. I thought about him a lot while watching the movie. I wish 12 years from now I’ll have his whole life on tape and I can go back and relive it. But real life only moves forward, no pause or rewind. BOYHOOD gives you the chance to see a life unfold in a flash. It’s beautiful in its imperfection and quirkiness. And then after it’s over, you can pick up your own son or daughter and be thankful that you still have more time, if only a little while. 

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