by: Michael Shields
Across the Margin makes its case for the best film of the year with Boyhood…..
It is increasingly difficult to pinpoint what it is that shapes who we were are. This age old question only seems to become more puzzling as more information is revealed through modern science. Numerous studies suggest that a large part of a human’s personality is actually solidified within the womb. Yet, it is irrefutable that we are, along with our genetic makeups, products of our environments. A notion that is acutely evident as just a brief remembering back to one’s first memories on the planet can be overwhelming. Those childhood moments are so impactful, and so defining, that they linger with us, and undoubtedly aided in defining who we ultimately become.
Our childhood experiences, while unique, are extraordinarily comparable. So many of us will be able to relate to each other’s stumbles, hiccups, and accomplishments along the road to adulthood. It’s heavy stuff, trying to adapt to a rich and dynamic world, to find out how you carry yourself as an individual, then figure out how to provide for yourself and others and actually, flourish. This years-long journey to adulthood is so wide-ranging and complex that it would seem unimaginable that its scope could be captured on film. Until now…..
In unbelievable fashion Richard Linklater, director of Boyhood, has found a way to dissolve the boundaries between life and art. The premise of Linklater’s ambitious undertaking was to take a child, Ellar Coltrane, and film him playing a boy named Mason for a few weeks every year for twelve years. To position him in various naturalistic, and intimate settings, and then edit the result together into a full-length film. This lengthy and arduous endeavor culminated in one of the best films ever to depict the innermost realities around growing up in America, and is an extraordinarily authentic glimpse into a family’s most personal of moments.
Linklater’s vision for Boyhood was a singular one. There have been projects in the past that could be compared to this achievement, like Michael Apted’s 7-Up series, a documentary where fourteen British children were tracked since 1964 when they were seven years old. Or Francois Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel movies where Truffaut followed the fictional life of Antoine Doinel for twenty years over three full-length films. But what sets Boyhood apart from these groundbreaking works, is that Linklater finds a way to smoothly portray the transition of the past into the present in a manner that is astonishing and seamless. With the advantage of following the same cast year in and year out for twelve years, Linklater crafted an all-encompassing and unflinching portrait of a young family that deeply resonates with the viewers own experiences. Boyhood is, at its core, a sweet, straightforward, and convincing chronicle of youth, and in this way it serves as the most deeply-affecting film to hit theaters in 2014.
Filming the story of a boy’s journey to adulthood over a twelve year span was a brilliant gamble. As we travel through time in Boyhood, we are reminded through music – be it Mason Jr’s father sharing with him the beauty of a classic Wilco song or the art of a perfect mixtape – and through the cast’s reactions to pivotal moments in recent American history, of our own journey. Through Boyhood the viewer is afforded the opportunity to reflect. To spend a moment in thought and consider where we were during these defining moments in our lives. To remember those who have come and gone, touching us in immeasurable ways in those intimate moments we shared with them. And to ultimately come to terms with the unrelenting passage of time. That life is short, and how fleeting all of these moments in life are, and how precious they can be.
While the premise of the film, its twelve year story-arc, is groundbreaking, it is important to not dismiss the grandeur of Boyhood as a mere novelty or a gimmick of sorts. For it is far from it. Boyhood is a devastatingly plausible memoir of the journey of life. In it, we watch the young actor who played Mason authentically age before our eyes, to transition from boyhood into adolescence in a truly sweeping and all-encompassing manner. Boyhood is a celebration of being alive, and a reminder to soak in, while still able, all the beauty in the world that we all too often take for granted.
I took a moment, following Richard Linklater’s acceptance of his well-deserved Golden Globe this past Sunday, to ruminate over his career. I took the time to peruse the list of daring projects he has helmed. Considering such impactful and unforgettable films as Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise (Sunset and Midnight), Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly, Bernie, and unto Boyhood, Linklater has slid under the radar, while consistently creating some of the most thought-provoking art to come out of Hollywood. He has grown to become a proverbial voice of an entire generation and with his most recent work, nay masterpiece, he is finally being showered with the respect and admiration he deserves and the distinction of being one of the finest filmmakers alive today.
Boyhood deserves everything. Every acknowledgement of praise from critics and every award that it is sure to collect over the next couple of weeks, deserved and then some. Boyhood is one of the most emotionally and honest portraits of growing up ever conceived. A tribute to life, to motherhood, and to our shared journey. Boyhood is an achievement. It is a commemoration of the gift that is life. And even though we may never see a film like this again, at least we will always have Boyhood.