“It is the moment that seizes us.”
Boyhood is the most repeated story of growing up made in the most special way possible. Imagine a time capsule, one into which you deposit memories every year for a long time. That is exactly what this movie is about – a capsule of moments. This is a movie that has been in the making for twelve years, the story of a young boy (Mason) growing up, made with a running cast of actors who met every year to shoot parts of the movie. It is this unique technique of direction by Richard Linklater that elevates this movie from being every other story and that which makes it something special. When analyzed on the plot alone, there is no real plot. It is a montage of moments that pass, ever so constantly, before the eyes of a young boy all the way into adulthood, and the anthem of the film is just that – life is but a series of moments, where none really seem to matter at the time and we are always on the move to the next.
The story is compelling for the very reason that it is the same faces, the same people we follow through the course of over a decade, and the journey that we take with them is the emotional punch that the movie provides. This is one of those movies that no matter how much I try to explain it in writing, demands to be seen. It is quite a long movie, but one in which no moment feels stretched or unnecessary, and the end result is the nostalgic equivalent of flipping through a photo album and reflecting on moments that had been. It very much makes itself relatable to the audience, and on following these people through their years, one is made to feel a part of their lives. The level of emotional attachment to characters this movie provides is unlike anything else. And frankly, one of the biggest troubles for directors is to make characters that the audience feels hinged onto, and that is indefinitely hard when there is a definite plot and story that the director wants to tell. What Boyhood does different, is take the limelight away from the story itself, and in the stead keep it fixed on its characters, making that much more room for character development. In fact, there is no other movie that I feel has succeeded in developing its characters before the audience to such a intricate level, that we feel we know each of them inside out. You know that feeling when a movie adapts your favorite book, and you don’t feel attached to the characters as much as there are different people telling the story of the same character over the years? By letting each actor fill out his role for all of his ages, there is a definite connection, especially the boy Mason, makes with the audience so much so that we know every subtle act that he does and the life-events that caused him to be who he is.
If you are looking for something that will thrill you, something filled with plot-points, events to speculate on, and a suspense-filled climax, it would be better for you to watch Interstellar again. But if you do miss out on this movie, you are missing out on something incredibly special and close to heart. Managing to slip in moments of emotion and sensation that never seem to have the feeling of cheese, Boyhood is a slice of life as it happens. The idea of using the same actors over the years in continuing roles is to be appreciated as it creates something special between the cast itself, which translates itself onto the screen, and finally into the minds of the viewer. It is evidently seen, as the movie goes on, the tightening family-like bond between the actors themselves, which makes for some great chemistry and words with meanings more than those heard. I was indeed skeptical of this film going in, as most of the news going on around it fixated on the fact that it has been in production since 2002. Coming out of it, and having had some time to reflect upon it, the movie does not seem over-ambitious or pretentious in the very least. Neither does it feel like bait used to draw in the people and the money. What it feels like is the display of a life that these people – both the actors and the characters they play – have been leading for all this time, inviting us to be a part of the special experience they had.
It is clear that many a directorial choice was made according to the boy, played in a breakout performance by Ellar Coltrane, his afflictions and the personality route that he took through his years of adolescence. I am not doubtful of the fact that the movie influenced the actors as well over the years. It is extremely delightful to watch these actors in appearances from twelve years ago, gaining trust with each other, and just experiencing each moment that came by, just as they would in their real lives. I believe this is the same feeling we get from following the cast of Harry Potter through the years of its franchise, seeing the actors grow up along with the characters they play; but orchestrated to a much more relatable note and following lives that feel like our own. The story of Mason does not involve a specific purpose, or a certain climactic goal that the story is propelling us toward. It is in the simplest of words, pure in the utter sense of the word.
Coming back to my thought on it being a time-capsule, there have been various elements inserted into the movie for this very purpose, to encapsulate some memories that are associated with the past years, which makes you smile inside. For example, the movie starts off being set in the early 2000s, and therefore we have the boy Mason sitting glued to Dragon Ball Z that is playing on the television. All across the film, there are events like the release of the sixth Harry Potter book, the U.S presidential elections, speculations about a new Star Wars movie, all inserted seamlessly to fit into the times, perfectly capturing a journey of a decade. Even allusions to the September 11 attacks which occurred slightly prior to the filming of this movie, are made later on, all in an attempt to recreate life on a silver screen. And it is indeed all these tiny things, unnoticeable at the time, that work subconsciously toward making this a masterpiece in its own right. This movie does not have unnatural thrills, or action, a graving conspiracy, or a destiny for the protagonist to fulfill. This may make it sound like an ordinary film, but it is anything but that. While growing up, most of us live very ordinary lives, seemingly with no purpose, all just experiencing and living in the moments as they came along, no particular direction that we need to move in. It is also incredible to see the increased nuances in his character reflecting Ellar’s maturing acting chops, making for a realistic portrayal going from an awkward child of six to the matured young adult that we grow into. Mason, his dad, played beautifully by Ethan Hawke, and his mom, played by Patricia Arquette all just go about living their lives, taking what they can from each event, and moving forward to an unclear future. There is no character that is felt unexplored, as exploring them would be unnecessary. Just as in real life, every person you meet is not meant to be known and felt, but just those select few who influence us. There is no stereotypical role you can fit the characters into, as no one is given a specific purpose building toward anything, the movie excels in telling a compelling story of people going about their lives and the whole experience that is life. I feel there are many things in this movie that if given the limelight to, would have made for a whole other movie. Mason’s interests change as he grows up, his role models change, the character that he develops himself into evolves with every person who touches his life, making for a very accurate depiction of our coming-of-age years. While I liked The Perks of Being a Wallflower as a good movie about maturity, this seems much closer and almost photographically similar to life as how it really is. There are various cultural influences that we see affect Mason, such as rock music, as induced in him by his dad, democrat afflictions during the elections, also from his dad, an earnest interest in photography, none of which are given to be the driving direction of this movie, but just factors that contribute to the person that Mason grows up to be. This is complemented by an excellent assortment of songs for the soundtrack which manages to capture all the varied tastes Mason went through. His evolving thoughts on the philosophy of life, a certain outrage against the machine (induced by his fierce interest in science fiction, shadowed in the Kurt Vonneghut books he reads as a kid), his stylistic and romantic choices, none seem forced, but completely pure and natural. It is as though the director was making a documentary of a real family as they grew up together. This is kind of exactly what Richard Linklater succeeds in doing with this film. The highlights of the movie are certain special moments of conversation between Mason and his dad, or his friends, on the most random and carefree of topics which we remember at the very end. In a way, that is exactly how we remember life, through those special memories that meant nothing at the time, but now stand for everything you have become.
I would love to ramble on about this movie, but any more and I would spoil the experience for you. Boyhood is a very different kind of masterpiece, one that excels not in its technicalities, but the very ride it takes its audience on, a pure recreation of life. This is a movie which I can see myself watching again, as there are never any over-and-out surprises, even the first time around. Life moves on as an ocean, and we simply ride the wave. It is an extremely rewarding and beautiful three hours that makes you relive your days of growing up. There is nothing like it anywhere else.