The mundane can be momentous. Richard Linklater’s experimental film, Boyhood is subtle in this message. By the time, the nearly three hour long film ends, you will feel like a parent who has seen a boy grow up in your home. You have been through it all; every growing up moment till he turns 18. There is nothing earth shatteringly new about his life either. Yet it is nothing like you have seen before. Like a reality show without any drama, yet without a dull moment. And that’s the true achievement of Boyhood.
The film is also an experiment in incredible patience required to shoot for 12 years. The director of the trilogy-Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight, Richard Linklater, has filmed the same fictional characters over the long period. It is small wonder that the family is compelling and keep you as involved and transfixed as if you are watching your own home video.
Linklater also brings back his favourite actor, Ethan Hawke, in his finest and most charming performance as the summer trip dad to the children brought up by a single mom. Like the earlier trilogy films, he comes across as very real, seems to improvise most lines and talks the way you and I talk.
Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is quite ordinary. We see his formative years in Texas starting from six. They are familiar to every parent, right from his teacher’s complaint of him staring out of the window all day; his first exposure to women in lingerie magazines; his fights with his annoying sister, Samantha (Lorelei, Linklater’s daughter); the school bullies he faces, his camping out with his dad who gives him great tips on impressing girls (“ask lots of questions and really listen”); his embarrassment while his dad gives his awkward teenage sister some clumsy sex education; his quiet acceptance of shifting and moving homes, changing fathers as his mom struggles through their survival bills; his teacher’s long pep talk on career choices in a darkroom and his first heartbreak as he turns adult.
By the time Mason reaches graduation day, you end up feeling as proud as his parents. When Mason’s mom silently breaks down on the day he is leaving home for college, it’s a heartrending leave-the-nest moment.Boyhood achieves all this by capturing the characters’ turning points and resultant growth therein. The noticeable change in their hairstyles, the children getting taller, the mom gaining weight, is remarkably consistent with their aging. Patricia Arquette who plays the mom, is seen transform through every life challenge, with amazing strength, resilience and gentle dignity.
Simple moments of playing video games, discovering new music, smoking pot, drinking beer and lying about sex, with the nonchalance of an adult, developing hobbies like photography; are woven neatly into the narrative. At the same time, intense stuff like abusive, alcoholic step fathers are downplayed, thus making a most effective statement that life goes on, no matter what.
Despite the parents breaking up while the children are small, it comes across a perfect loving family who stand by each other, throughout. Mason’s dad may not be around all the time, but endears himself the moment he tells his children “talk to me” when they don’t go beyond ‘ok’ when he asks them about their lives. This is a family that represents the changing dynamics in family relationships and more than one marriage. In an unwelcome marital situation, Boyhood is a great example of idyllic parenting. Especially by parents who go through self destructive ways to gradual settled lives and grow up along with their children.
Both Mason the character and Coltrane, the actor, are seen on screen from the age six to 18.That’s the marvel and magic of both growing up and the movies. Linklater displays his ingenious understanding of both. His narrative is a brilliant and original, seamless capture of real passage of time.
There is a scene in which the boy, now an adult, asks his dad, ‘what’s the point’? And there is no real answer except that “you’re feeling it”. Likewise, there is no one point really to this film and yet it is replete with meaning.
Such as, there may not be happy endings but there are no sad endings as well. In fact there are just endings and beginnings. Boyhood ends, adulthood begins.
Like a conversation in the film goes, ‘it’s not about seizing the moment, the moment seizes us’.
Just like that, Boyhood seizes you. And leaves you satisfied in an entirely new, intimate way.