Director: Richard Linklater
Writer: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater
In the entire history of cinema, there has been nothing at all quite like Boyhood. Richard Linklater’s latest film was shot over the course of 12 years with the same actors and crewmembers, depicting a realistic portrayal of one boy’s childhood, adolescence and the eventual realisation of adulthood. Art imitates life and life imitates art as we see both the “boy” of the title, Mason, and the actor who portrays him (Ellar Coltrane) grow from a shy 6-year-old child to a sensitive young man. His relationships with his separated parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke), his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and the various figures who float in and out of his life are explored throughout the years.
Over the course of the film, the notion of life itself is told through consecutive and seamless chapters in Mason’s early existence. Although the film is not constantly focused on Mason, it is clearly told from his point of view. From school bullies, stepfamilies, domestic abuse, a distant father figure, a struggling single mother, an overachieving older sister, first loves and tough choices about the future, the film could simply be entitled, “Life”.
Moments of simple pleasures are often observed in Linklater’s films, with his excellent Before series depicting fleeting moments between two people who meet by incident throughout the years. These are moments that seem unimportant and mundane at the time, but are actually the ones we remember the most in the future. There is a scene early on in Boyhood where Mason’s mother, Olivia, reads Harry Potter to Mason and his sister at bedtime. My own childhood flashed before my eyes as I recollected how my own mother read Harry Potter to me when I was around Mason’s age.
In fact I found constant instances throughout the film where Mason’s life seemed to align with my own upbringing. Many people around my age will notice the social, political and cultural events that shaped our generation, like the War on Terror, Apple technology, Facebook, Harry Potter, Obama’s administration. They are all highlighted but never too deeply focused on. Simply, they’re fleeting moments that just happened to occur in a particular time frame, but their impact on Mason’s life is not stressed upon. That’s the thing that struck me about Boyhood; it’s so true to life that you constantly compare your own experiences to those you see on screen. Its realism is so realistic that it plays out more like a documentary than a piece of fiction. And if it weren’t for the famous faces of Arquette and Hawke, an unassuming viewer may seriously consider the film a piece of non-fiction.
Linklater may be one of the most humanistic filmmakers working today. He often chooses to use improvised dialogue to give his films a realistic feel and to allow his actors to truly explore the depths of their characters. His exquisite Before trilogy, which starred Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, concluded with its final chapter last year, and he has previously made a name for himself with comedies like Slacker and Dazed and Confused. All of his films have two things in common: they all focus on the passing of time and the changes to relationships.
Linklater has assembled a cast of passionate and excellent actors who must have been very devoted to the project to have agreed to work for 12 years. Coltrane portrays Mason with a realistic quiet empathy, and Lorelai Linklater plays Samantha with the right amount of spirited rebellion and sympathy. But it is Arquette and Hawke as the children’s separated parents who are truly a revelation. As Olivia, Arquette shows off her calculated poise and compassion. Her string of failed relationships keeps her all together human and extremely strong in the face of adversary. Hawke’s performance as Mason Sr. shows the most change throughout the film. From being a slacker young dad to buckling down and starting a new family with wife no. 2, his portrayal is both sympathetic and apathetic.
Another thing that Boyhood excels in is its perfect soundtrack that features an array prominent artists from over the 12 years the film was shot. It begins with Coldplay’s Yellow as a six-year-old Mason lies on his back on a patch of grass staring at the clouds, and it ends with Arcade Fire’s Deep Blue, a melancholic lament of childhood lost, which plays over the end credits. It’s almost like a musical time capsule that heralds the start of each phrase or year in the film.
In this epic journey of one boy’s adolescence, everyone can find a piece of themselves. By keeping it relatable, realistic and compassionate, the film’s simplicities are thrilling and compelling, which is something to be truly celebrated. This is one of the most incredible cinema experiences I have ever had; and Boyhood really is an experience rather than just a film. In fact, it’s a masterpiece in every sense of the word.