by: Chris Thompson
A brief look at Richard Linklater’s latest film, Boyhood, a movie twelve years in the making….
Making a film is usually an endeavor with a well-defined timeline. You hire a director, round-up some actors, assemble a film crew, movie producers, editors, etc. and then over the course of a year, maybe eighteen months, you shoot a movie.
But what if the camera never stopped rolling? Never stopped telling its story? What if instead of only following that teen actor for a few weeks during his magical summer where he learned about the world; or that young couple during that wild and crazy random night they had in the city, you kept the camera running? Maybe you’d watch that kid grow-up? Go on his first date? Fall in love? Or maybe you’d find that couple getting on with their life? Having their first child? Moving out to the suburbs? This is the premise for Richard Linklater’s latest film, Boyhood. Bucking the traditional style of filmmaking, Linklater’s latest took twelve years to complete. And he did it on purpose.
Boyhood is an American drama starring Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane and Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei, and was shot intermittently from 2002 to 2013. Getting an actor to commit to a film for twelve years is no simple task and the sheer scope of the movie is impressive. It’s especially evident in the transformation of the film’s main character Mason Jr. (played perfectly by Ellar Coltrane). As we follow along with the story, we are witness to the personal journey Mason Jr. takes over the course of twelve years, the camera popping in and out of his life over that time, wandering through the ofttimes difficult journey of growing-up like no other film has before. And what makes the film so believable, so tangible, is the fact that we get to actually watch his character age.
When the film opens, Mason Jr. is six years old, winding his way through the innocence of childhood. But overtime we begin to notice that Mason Jr’s features, his voice, his actions and mannerisms, are all beginning to change. We follow along as he progresses into the awkward years of his pre-teens and ultimately, into young adulthood where he begins to find himself and wonder what to do with that newfound insight. The genius feature of the film is that you actually start to believe that his character is real. That all the characters in the the film are real in fact and not just actors simply because you begin to consider the fact that this is a portion of their lives you are witnessing. Gone is the make-up and special effects used to suggest age. Gone are the different actors who portray the various parts of the characters life. What you are left with is something real, a blurring of the lines between storytelling and life. A tearing down of the sacred fourth wall that separates the moviegoer from the film.
But it isn’t just Mason Jr. who we grow-up with during the film, for it parallels with our ever evolving world as well. We get to watch as the times change. See presidents get elected. Cell phones become smaller as technology invades our lives. There’s jokes about the new Star Wars movies never coming out and excitement as the Harry Potter book series takes the world by storm. And we get to watch Mason Jr’s family change as well. His sister Samantha matures, blossoming from an obnoxious little girl into a bright and young adult. We see his separated parents try and figure out their different lives. Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) struggling with being a role model for his son while balancing his own life. His mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) navigating her way through a series of difficult and unsatisfying boyfriends all while not trying to lose sight of what’s important, her kids.
From road trips to family dinners. From graduations and birthdays to sadness and joy and everything else that happens in between, the realistic passage of time that we experience during Boyhood serves to elevate it to something more than just a story. To make it into an experience that borders on transcendence. That exists somewhere between our reality and a dream. The power of the film is in its ability to make the viewer peer inside themselves. To weigh one’s own journey through life against the journey of the film characters. It’s an ode to growing up and being a parent. It’s about fear and doubt and uncertainty and love and happiness and maturation offered up raw and untamed. It’s a nostalgic journey from the center of the heart to the edges of a family.
Boyhood is a new door opened in the world of filmmaking. One that chronicles the lives of its actors in a way that’s never been done before. Movies are made to end, but this one smartly lumbers on. It’s cinematic history in the making and it’s Richard Linkletter’s magnum opus. If you see any film this year this is the one.