Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, is cinematic history. With a production period that stretches back twelve years, the movie follows, Ellar Coltrane, from age five to eighteen and captures his life with humility and careful adoration.
Coltrane plays a boy named Mason, son of Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke (credited as mom and dad), and brother of the older, Samantha, played by Linklater’s own daughter, Lorelei. It’s a movie about family, where the story and characters are defined by the actors who play them as time goes by. As a result of this, the movie feels alive and dynamic – changing to whom the actors are at the time – which is a conquest no other movie or television show has managed to do before them.
The concept of following one young actor for many years is not revolutionary in and of itself, as we can point to projects like the Harry Potter franchise, and countless television shows. Angus T. Jones is credited with 225 episodes of Two and a Half Men at age twenty, and witnessing the growth of Kiernan Shipka – both as an actress and character – has been one of the most exiting aspects of Mad Men. The reason Boyhood separates itself from anything else, is because we get twelve years of experiences and feelings, compressed into a 165 minute movie.
It’s the coming of age movie, and will without doubt, be held as a definition of the popular genre in years to come. While we follow Mason from pre-school to College, we as the audience get front row seats to his life. It’s an ordinary life, with day to day problems – some bigger than others – but to describe it with as few words as possible; it’s a coming of age tale set in reality. Masons issues is the separation of his parents, but never does the movie fall in the trap of becoming a; “let’s get mom and dad back together”-coming of age. Nor does his High School romances become a; “I’ll loose my virginity”-coming of age. It captures life, with all the joys and pains that brings, without reaching into the formulaic standards of the genre.
This shows a director who trusts his vision, and goes all the way to realise it. While it’s unclear how much the actors have had to say, Linklater is open about the fact that this has been an open collaboration from the start. Ellar Coltrane defines Mason through his personal growth in many ways. He became interested in photography, and thus, one of Masons character traits is an intense passion for the art of photography. Because of this openness between everyone involved, it feels real and honest towards the characters pictured on screen. But it’s not only Coltrane who has an effect on Mason, but also the other way around.
It’s difficult – almost impossible – to imagine how it would be like to grow up under these circumstances. It’s not uncommon to hear people in the 21th century say they’ve been raised by television or movies, for one reason or another, but never has this statement been more true. Coltrane has not grown up with television as a past time – or a replacement guardian for parents who aren’t around – but he’s grown up within the industry – on the other side of the camera. He is the attraction whom many people will soon look back upon. To analyse his portrait in a movie review, or point to how he shaped other young people who will watch this movie in the future.
Throughout all of these years, the movie has been created in the present, but works as a look back into the past for us. Linklater has an almost magical ability to understand temporary moments, and pick between important – and not so important – historical moments to be represented in the movie. A discussion about a resurrection of Star Wars feels real when Mason talks about it with his dad, and a few scenes later, the political campaign represents a very real state of mind back when Barack Obama first ran for office. Because all of these scenes where shot and realised in the past – they do not feel nostalgic or forced – but rather reactionary to the time that passes with each second of the movies run time.
Boyhood is a movie that will define, there is no doubt about that. It’s not merely an exceptional portrait of a boy growing, it’s a movie that exist as a reflection of our own lives. I – a soon to be 20 year old male – look to Boyhood and find a shockingly similar reflection. I grew up with separated parents, lived with my mom and saw my dad at the weekends. Now he lives on the other side of the globe, and we meet very little, but talk – like Mason and Ethan Hawke’s character – over Skype. I went to a Harry Potter book launch, as Mason does. In no way is this a unique situation, but that’s what makes it what it is. It’s a movie thousands of young adults will find themselves in, and the same can be said for parents. There are things in this movie that – as unqualified as I am to speak of it – feels like touching and heartbreaking reflections of what it is to be a parent. Arquette and Hawke bring in their own experiences and thoughts – knowingly or not – to their portraits of Mom and Dad, as they both grew as parents during this period.
It is a movie so exceptionally large in ambition it’s incredible that it payed of at all. As we follow these people for twelve years, in the span of three hours, it’s surprisingly difficult to say goodbye when the screen cuts to black. Boyhood has not only made a connection to me, but in retrospect, scenes and situations blend together – and although easily separated – it feels like part of my own past. No movie has ever done this.