I first heard about Boyhood when I was 16 or 17, back when it was called something like “Untitled 12 Year Linklater Project” or something like that. I’d just seen Waking Life for the first time and pulled up IMDB to see what Richard Linklater was working on next. I’d forgotten about the project until the trailer had been announced and it was soon to be released in theaters.
You don’t so much see Boyhood as experience it. The acting, the writing and the direction are all top-tier and the pacing exquisite (a long movie flies by), but I never really thought of it as a movie that I was watching. I thought of it as a time to sit and think about those 12 years that had passed since I first heard about the film’s announcement to the moment I was now sitting in the theater (on my birthday, no less).
Ellar Coltrane, as the character who’s titular boyhood we experience, is perfectly cast. His life is fairly normal–his parents are divorced, he goes through a pair of shitty stepdads, has a girlfriend for a little bit, graduates high school and decides to go to college–but that’s not really the point. People who say that Boyhood is boring, and there are tons, are missing the point that Boyhood isn’t about just one boy’s life. It’s about life itself. In fact, if the title Life Itself hadn’t already been taken, it would have been apt here, too. My life is about as different as the character of Mason’s as could be: My parents stayed together, I’ve never had any shitty stepdads in my life, I went all through high school totally romantically devoid and I never went to college. Boyhood is still about me and it’s about you, too.
What happens on screen is the story itself and it’s always fun and engaging to watch, but the feeling and emotions of the movie transcend that. It’s an opportunity to ponder the enormity of 12 years. In 12 years, I will be forty. Holy shit. That’s heavy. But the passage of time isn’t something that affects only one person. You, your friends and the whole world will age with you. Whatever you decide to do in those 12 years is entirely up to you (well, probably) and the trek into the future isn’t what’s important; it’s how you decide to get there. We’re all lost, we’re all hopeless in some way… but that’s just humanity. The human condition, I think, is to be perpetually intimidated by the sheer overhwelming power of existence.
What’s most interesting about Boyhood and like so many of Linklater’s films before it, is how judgment-free it is of most of the characters. Yes, there are villains and people who are capable of great cruelty, but if someone is to lead their life in a certain way that doesn’t seem to be harming anyone else, they’re not treated shabbily by the movie’s plot. Ethan Hawke as Mason Senior is an outspoken liberal and in the movie, when Mason is now 15, spends a weekend with his new wife’s religious, gun-toting and clearly Republican family–but they’re never treated as caricatures or plot elements at odds with the rest of the movie; they’re simply people and they’re genuinely caring, honest folks.
Aside from Ellar Coltrane, the best performance in this movie is Patricia Arquette’s. She perfectly plays an overworked, overstressed and under-appreciated single mother of two who just gets the shit-end of the stick so many times it begins to seem like fate just doesn’t like her. She freaks out a fair amount of times, as would we all, but keeps it together and never falters or becomes anything less than a really good mother.
A complaint I feel like a lot of people who see and dislike this movie will be: What’s the point? Well, what’s the point of life? If you have a pretty clear idea of what you think the point of being alive in the first place is, I think you’ll be able to affix it to being the grand statement to Boyhood. Is it meaningless? Maybe. Is it an intriguing journey? Always.
As you watch Boyhood, it begs you to explore your own life and consider how strange and awesome it is to be alive. So many lives are out there. Out of the millions of people who will end up seeing this movie, I wonder how many of them will have lives just like Mason’s? An untold many, I’m sure.
Boyhood is a masterpiece and applying titles to it like, “the best movie of the year so far” or depending on what awards it wins like Best Picture, is meaningless. It doesn’t matter how well-received it is because of its statement and its ambition in telling a story about the core of us all and the lives we’ll all lead day in and day out. Each year it represents in the life is so fully realized it will live to be reminder, and not a corny one, of the times that it took place in. Not without its flaws, Boyhood doesn’t need to be perfect… it will remain as a movie that should be seen by everyone.