Think of your past and the past of those around you. Remember the big moments, the things that mattered and the events that shaped you. Now try and picture one year earlier, one year later. How precise is that memory, how detailed are your recollections? How did your body, your physicality, your facial features differ from that one important memory? These are the fragments of our lives lost to the fog of time, salvaged only somewhat by home movies, photo albums and dreams. Boyhood is an exercise in blurring these moments together while providing them for viewing with perfect clarity; a time-vault in an age where time-capsules are all we’ve ever known… and the result is astounding.
Filmed over the course of twelve years with a few scenes shot each year, Boyhood is a pet project of indie-veteran director Richard Linklater showcasing the formative years of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) and his journey from six-year-old to adult. Although seen primarily through Mason’s eyes, what might be Boyhood‘s most tactile achievement is also the biggest contributor to its misnomer title: it isn’t so much a movie about Mason as it is a balancing act of familial progression. None of the family members (consisting of Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as separated parents and Lorelei Linklater as Mason’s elder sister) are underdeveloped and the stories of the family and ancillary characters are all anchored by the experience of seeing Mason form his own identity as the years pass by.
Through charting that progression into individuality, Boyhood is a very thematic undertaking. Key moments resonate not because they are especially well executed or identical to any one person’s own life events but because they’re the same situations that everybody of a certain age has been in at some point or another. Whilst not everyone has worked in a restaurant or been to college, who hasn’t had to come to terms with what they enjoy, how to present themselves and their tastes to the world? We’ve all had to determine which people we allow to influence us, for better or worse, and we’ve all been presented with choices about how we approach drugs and alcohol. These are universal themes in the lives of the modern man and woman and some of them are presented with much more frequency than others in the pop culture lexicon but all are given equal footing here. Whether or not Boyhood affects somebody emotionally is an entirely subjective experience but it is almost impossible to imagine anybody could sit through the life of Mason without at least the creep of familiarity building up a couple of times.
As a result of production being dictated and written primarily based on the path that the lives of the cast took throughout filming, Boyhood never feels like it has any authorial intent. Compared to other Linklater movies, such as the Before series or A Scanner Darkly, there’s no real message or statement. Boyhood boasts no deep meaning or answers but rarely is a movie so much a product of the people involved; each character feels informed by the actor representing them and you will likely never see a film so reliant and strengthened by the pop culture of its time. Because the conversations about Star Wars or The Dark Knight were relevant and because the individual songs of the soundtrack were at the forefront of public consciousness whilst filming they ground the movie and give the accomplishment a sense of place in time.
Although Boyhood is far from the tightest narrative and ultimately doesn’t have a great deal to say for itself, it is one of those important movies that only comes along once or twice in a generation. It presents the entire format of film in a way that hasn’t been achieved on such a scale before and does so without relying on technology. Instead Boyhood is a breathtaking and reflective tale made possible only by the skill, persistence and dedication of all involved.
Bolstered by a superb cast, an impressive discipline and an innovative format, Boyhood brings both physical and personal growth to centre stage in a presentation that pushes the medium of film towards a much more mature environment.