Many sweeping statements have been made about Boyhood, the new film from Richard Linklater. It’s been referred to as a magnificent feat of cinema, filming over 12 years to chronicle the life of Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, documenting his change from a 6 year old boy to an 18 year old college freshman on the brink of manhood. Due to this tracking nature, Boyhood has been called the film of a generation. With all of this anticipation surrounding the film I was terrified it’d leave me feeling underwhelmed – thankfully it didn’t.
Saying Boyhood is the film of a generation isn’t as hyperbolic as it sounds. It acts as a time capsule of the years 2002 to 2013 through not only the ageing of the principal characters, but with music and fashion and pop culture. Boyhood opens with Coldplay’s Yellow, a song which left a legacy of emotionally montages over the next decade, and already the film feels like an embodiment of 00’s culture. Later, a young girl incessantly sings High School Musical and the children attend the midnight release of Harry Potter, and it causes you to reminisce on these cultural phenomena. One of the things that surprised me the most about the film was how fluid time felt; there were no clear divides from year to year, some segments were long, some short, and often you could only tell that a jump had occurred due to the cultural, musical or technological references (or alternatively, the ever changing hairstyles). I think this drove the power of film, encompassing the audience entirely in Mason’s journey.
Watching Mason grow is unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I became so invested in a character who was incredibly real – Boyhood is equally a film about Coltrane’s growth, some of his own words eventually became part of older Mason’s ramblings about life. The change in the more firmly fictional characters is remarkable too.
I particularly enjoyed the evolution of Patricia Arquette’s character Olivia, Mason’s mother. At the start she is a single mother who lacks the money to give her children the life she wants them to have. She has anger founded in the trappings of womanhood, being ‘somebody’s daughter’ then ‘somebody’s mother’, never somebody herself. At the film’s conclusion, Olivia is smarter and successful, liberal feminism would define her as being much stronger than she was 12 years previous. Yet, as the viewer, you know this isn’t the case. Olivia is still searching for her own identity, and we see her try to be somebody’s wife on two occasions. The first is harrowing and abusive and overt, the second is subtle and devastating as the similarities to the first sneak up on you.
It’s refreshing to see a female character who is undoubtedly strong but hopelessly weak. Linklater makes it clear that it’s not Olivia’s own convictions which make her weak but the men in her life and the society she lives in. It’s a good contrast to Mason’s story, and it’s appreciated, as my main criticism of Boyhood is with Mason himself. Richard Linklater chose to base this sprawling epic of a film around a white, heterosexual boy who, while not being from money, does not live in horrendous poverty. The worldview developed is one founded in complete privilege; he complains about a generation obsessed with screens but uses his iPhone to video call his Father hundreds of miles away, and he wears earrings and nail polish, knowing that on him it’ll be regarded as simply ‘alternative’. I don’t think Mason’s privilege detracts from the film, but I can’t help but feel that exploring the life of somebody who is in some way marginalised would be more interesting or even more important.
However you could argue that the privileged position of Mason is key to the film. This way, the plot is never anchored in one specific issue, it can meander and is therefore has a striking richness to the storytelling. It surprised me by (save a few moments involving Olivia’s first husband, which were raw and shocking) never becoming too dramatic, instead focusing on how everyday situations can shape a person. They can also signify how a person changes, as we see how Mason has had to adapt to the more tumultuous experiences of his life, happening not in the windows we are granted access to but in the gaps between them.
Boyhood was also nowhere near as idealised as I expected it to be. Seriously, I went in there expecting to sob over THE END OF INNOCENCE and for the film to be directed through a lens tinted rose by an nostalgic perception of coming of age. It wasn’t. Just like it kept a lot of major action in the gaps, Boyhood never focused on the checkpoints of growing up. This meant the more emotional moments of the film didn’t feel cliché in their coincidence or sentimentality, instead reminding the audience that sometimes, even ‘everyday’ life that some may call mundane, coincidences can be amazing and so can ‘normal’ people – in fact it is those two things combined that created the moment which made tears stream down my face.
At the very end of the film I was not crying, instead my heart was warm with the power and possibility of youth, both Mason’s and my own. But when the credits rolled and the person sitting behind me started clapping (this is my favourite thing, I don’t understand why some people despise clapping at the cinema), I broke into both applause and FLOODS of tears. I cannot escape how emotional and sentimental when it comes to life in general, I think I was simply relieved and happy that Boyhood had affected those around me in the same way. It is truly testament to Linklater that I came out of Boyhood so excited that a film exceeded it’s hype and left me inspired.