I’m a tad late on this, but Boyhood is by far one of the best films I’ve seen all year, if not one of the best films I’ve seen in my lifetime.
If you haven’t heard of it, the film, directed by Richard Linklater, known for the critically acclaimed Before Sunrise trilogy, was filmed over the period of 11 years between 2002 and 2013. Boyhood is the product of 45 total days of filming, mostly centered on the main character, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), as he ages from a 6-year-old boy to an 18-year-old young adult heading off to college.
Now let’s take a moment to think about all the effort that has been put into making this film. Coltrane said that Linklater would generally get the cast together every summer to film. Going into the project, Linklater had to know that Coltrane and his family would be reliable enough to commit to doing this. Even though it wasn’t much effort on Coltrane’s part to shoot for a week or so every summer, the idea that this has just been part of his life for the past 12 years is astonishing.
In addition to Linklater and Coltrane, both Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke had to commit to playing Mason’s parents this whole time as well. Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei, played Mason’s older sister, Samantha. Several other actors portrayed characters over several years as well.
The film starts with a 6-year-old Mason. As the film progresses, we see learn more about Mason and his family. Mason’s sister, Samantha, is older than him by only a year or two. Their parents have been separated for a little while now. Mason and Samantha’s father, Mason Sr., has just reentered their life after living in Alaska for roughly a year. He’s decided to move back to Texas. Their mother, who is trying to piece her life together by going back to school, is upset with their father for his irresponsible and childish behavior.
Boyhood doesn’t accomplish anything big in terms of plot, but I wasn’t exactly expecting that when I walked into this movie. Linklater didn’t have anything intricate planned when starting this project. He knew it would end when Mason headed off for college. He filled in the gaps as each year went by. And we don’t just see Mason grow up on screen. We see Coltrane grow up as well. As Coltrane started getting older, Linklater started sitting down with him to discuss what was going on in Coltrane’s life year by year to get an idea of what should be included in the film.
Coltrane grows before our eyes from a sweet, artistic boy to a cynical, moody teenager, and eventually to a more responsible young adult. Several rants about we hear in the film from Mason are beliefs that Coltrane actually holds. In addition, much of Coltrane’s physical appearance in the film was determined by his own decisions regarding his appearance in real life. Most of his haircuts are his own real life haircuts. The ear piercings we see on him during his high school years were done prior to filming. Coltrane called up Linklater to ask him if they were okay, and the director actually liked the idea, and okayed them, similarly to how he okayed the blue nail polish that could be seen on Coltrane’s fingernails while filming one day when he was in high school.
Coltrane’s acting isn’t exactly superb, but there’s something grounded in his presence on screen. This movie isn’t about the performances anyway. It’s about much more than that.
“I just want to do anything I want, because it makes me feel alive, as opposed to giving me the appearance of normality,” a 16-year-old Mason says. Don’t we all?
As someone who’s roughly Coltrane’s age of 19, watching this movie was like a flashback into my own past. Seeing Mason watch Dragon Ball Z on his tube TV as a child, going to the midnight release of the sixth Harry Potter novel, sporting long surfer hair in middle school, seeing all the signs for Obama in people’s yards during the ’08 presidential election, and much more reminded me of my own boyhood and growing up over the past decade. In a way, this makes it much easier for me to relate to this film. But really, anyone can relate. Mason grows up in an ever-changing environment. He experiences love and heartbreak, gain and loss, change. Really, what more is life all about?
I think it’s easy for us to think of our parents and their parents, taking into account all the defining moments of their life, whether it be related to pop culture or not. But when analyzing my own life, it’s hard for me to consider all that’s happened during my lifetime and compare it to all that’s happened during my parents’ lifetime. Because I’m younger, it’s easy to feel like these events are less valid than their own experiences. Watching Boyhood will make you think about life and how it’s just composed of all these small moments. It makes you sit down and think about all the small moments in your own life that have made you who you are today.
The simple-minded cinema-goer might go see Boyhood and think, “Yeah, it’s kind of cool what they did, but so what? What was the point?” If you’re asking this question, you obviously don’t understand the simplicity of the story being told before you. The story of a boy turning into a man. A story that we see every day in our own lives. That’s probably why it feels so familiar, and that’s probably why it’s so captivating.