When director Richard Linklater started filming his new project in May of 2002, it is likely that he had a small notion of how great this project’s potential effect on the world could be. Linklater, previously known for films such as Dazed and Confused, School of Rock,and the Before Sunrise series, set out to do what no filmmaker had ever done before: film the same actors, specifically with the story centered on a six-year-old boy, over the course of twelve years. The director also achieved something no other Hollywood giant has accomplished: he created a film that fully, and beautifully, captures what growing up truly means. This film is Boyhood.
And what a wonderful time it premiered; before the film’s release, there was a heavy amount of buzz surrounding it. How would a twelve-year epic play out on the screen? The answer is as one expects it to. The film plays out as effortlessly and fluidly as a project that took twelve years to create should. We see the protagonist, Mason, mature wisely, and sometimes painfully, from age six to eighteen. He maneuvers his way through the economic recession of 2008, abusive stepfathers, and other rites of teenage passage, like first kisses, condescending teachers, high school parties, and staying out just a little bit too long after curfew. Mason changes before the audience’s eyes from buzz cuts to earrings to massive jumps in his stature to more sharpened features and loss of baby fat. Boyhood’s power does not simply come from the human aesthetics of the film. It arises from the eerie likeness that parallels the lives of many now eighteen-year-olds, both in the real world and within their own small corners of the world. Watching Mason’s progression through the film is almost like watching old home videos; his development is familiar, almost as if one filmed a brother or close friend throughout his most crucial years of life.
During my last week at home before my move to college, my parents tried to organize many last minute family outings. My mom had heard of Boyhood’s release at a local theater and we decided to go the night it opened. I was overly excited since I knew of the groundbreaking premise of the film, but I had no idea how greatly affected I would be when I walked out of the theater. I watched as Mason muddled through his toughest years and remembered how, not too long ago, I did the same. I bobbed my head along to the same music I listened to each year Mason grew; I excitedly poked my mother when the song “1901” by Phoenix played in the film, as Mason was listening to it at the same age I was. Mason’s life so closely paralleled my own; I felt myself distressed when he was bullied, joyous at his first kiss, and bittersweet upon his graduation. His feelings so accurately mirrored my own. It then hit me: Mason’s life was universally representative of the people I had just graduated with a little less than a month before I saw the film. The life I had so thoughtlessly led through most of my adolescence had been so closely documented through an actor my age for my benefit and for the benefit of so many others my age. Did Mr. Linklater know that he had just created the film of our generation?
The magic of Boyhood is not so much about the gimmick; of course, a film that is a humongous time feat is sure to bring in curious moviegoers in a similar stream as the visually groundbreaking Avatar did. Boyhood’s wonder comes from the simplicity of the world it portrays. Mason’s world is unmistakably our own, without the glamour of hyperbolic Hollywood and cinematic façade. So often films strive to make reality distant and unattainable, as to create an unachievable ideal for the media consuming public. Boyhood is different. It is real, it is raw, and it is adolescence. The audience does not have to try to go live the life the film encourages, because they have already done so.
Linklater’s film resonates at the right time. Ellar Coltrane, now twenty years old, plays Mason, a member of the graduating class of 2014. For all the college freshman of the world, he represents our journey ahead. The final scene shows Mason on his way to move into his college dorm; there is a moment of the shared sentiment of “this is it” between the audience and the boy. The actor himself grew over film to remind us recent graduates that it is not only the end of our own boyhoods and girlhoods, but it is also time to appreciate the beauty of the lives we leave behind as we embark upon our new ones. Although crewmen and expensive cameras did not document most of us eighteen year olds’ lives, we are able to live vicariously through Coltrane’s unforgettable metamorphic role. Mason accepts the milestones in his life as part of the journey; what he learns is never lost on him, yet he understands life moves on and there is not much time to dwell on it.
What makes this picture the film of our generation is simply because it is the story of our generation. In the world of film today, there are few movies released that are truly representative of the rollercoaster of life and also growing up. It is truly beautiful to see a filmmaker and his cast so effortlessly capture not only a moment of time, but also multiple moments we often fail to see as monumental. Life, according to Boyhood, is not about making it to the end; it’s about growing to get there.
Copyright IFC Films. Used under Fair Use