By Kaelan Unrau
Real life doesn’t play like a movie. It’s messy and random, without that neat arc from exposition to climax to resolution. Yet for most of his professional career, Richard Linklater – the director of such classic cult-fare as Dazed and Confused and Waking Life – has worked hard to reduce the gap between fiction and reality.
Boyhood is the culmination of these efforts. Over the film’s three-hour run time, we follow a certain Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he develops from child to adult. No stranger to protracted timelines, Linklater had previously explored the notion of aging actors with Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight. But Boyhood takes things to a whole other level: originally titled 12 Years, it took just that long to film.
This fact in itself is probably enough to merit the label of “conceptual art.” But like most of the director’s oeuvre, Boyhood somehow manages to avoid the twin pitfalls – so common in the art world – of tedium and pretension. While many of his art house peers (Terrence Malick, Lars von Trier) invoke lofty themes and heavy-handed symbolism, Linklater remains refreshingly understated. Sure, Mason’s journey into adulthood contains its fair share of profundity, but these insights don’t come in the form of some grand meta-narrative. Instead, Linklater’s genius lies in the way he can intimately disclose the private realities of his subjects.
As Mason grows up, we partake in his joy, his pain, his uncertainty. We relive the awful dread caused bythat first day at a new school. We remember the awkward tenderness of adolescent love. And the supporting case of Mason’s family (Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater) are painted with a comparably sympathetic brush. Indeed, much of the film’s pull probably lies in its relatability, how you are reminded of your own life and experiences. In this sense, Boyhood functions more as mirror than narrative.
Yet at the end of the day, what Linklater has presented us with is a work of fiction. And despite its natural appearance, the film toys with its own artifice – albeit in a characteristically understated way. In one scene, for instance, a reluctant Mason is forced to buy liquor for his alcoholic and abusive stepfather. However, the actor playing the cashier also played an identical part in Dazed and Confused. And film buffs will no doubt draw a comparison between Ethan Hawke’s role as both Mason’s father and the romantic yet rather irresponsible protagonist from Before Sunrise et al.
Thus, if Boyhood presents a mirror for our lives, it’s one in which the reflection appears but darkly. Yet it’s precisely the disjunction between reality and fiction – and Linklater’s arduous attempts to erase it – that makes the film so captivating.Boyhood, Boyhood movie, Richard Linklater