Filmed Over Twelve Years, 'Boyhood' Takes You On A Profound Journey
Throughout its promotional tour, director Richard Linklater has joked that the original title of his latest film was originally slated to be 12 Years. Plans had to change, and Linklater's highly-lauded Bildungsroman hits theaters as Boyhood, which is a literal, if a bit blasé, one-word summary of the film. There's a lot more at work in Boyhood than just your typical coming of age journey.
Filmed in brief segments over a period of, well, 12 years, Linklater's film is a chronicle of the development of young Texan Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) from ages 6 through 18 as he metamorphizes from a shaggy-haired moppet into a shaggy-haired college freshman. Linklater is mostly focused on Mason, but alongside him are his older sister Sam (Lorelei Linklater), single mom Olivia (Patricia Arquette), and sometimes-present biological dad Mason, Sr. (Ethan Hawke) who undergo their own transformation on the screen and command their own share of the film. Although the story is fictional, Linklater's gambit of filming the same actors over a 12-year span pays off in dividends. The cast, even Lorelei Linklater and Ellar Coltrane, age seamlessly onscreen. Boyhood rarely calls attention to dates, and whole years can breeze by without the viewer ever realizing it.
Because Linklater scarcely calls on specific dates, the portrayal of time in Boyhood is fluid. There are plenty of post-9/11 cultural touchstones any American who was cognizant during the time period would recognize (lining up at midnight to get the new Harry Potter novel, the invasion of Iraq, the 2008 Presidential election), but they are mostly fleeting. Boyhood forgoes with a traditional plot and Linklater uses his preferred unfocused and rambling style seen in his earlier works like Slacker and Dazed And Confused. Secondary characters may only warrant one or two scenes, never to be heard from again. With one major exception earlier in the film, dramatic plot turns in Mason's profoundly mundane and normal life come and go either without resolution or straight to their conclusion. This isn't laziness or sloppiness on the part of the Linklater, but a portrayal of the selective nature of memory. The strongest recurring theme that ties together Mason's development is his questioning of masculine authority figures—namely the two alcohol-fueled men his mother marries during the film, his absentee yet loving dad but also simply from growing up in the macho climate of Texas.
Boyhood is less about the clichéd "formative" moments that make up the usual coming of age film, and more about the accumulation of them and even the smallest of details that lodge themselves into our consciousness as the past simply disappears in time and memory. A moment as brief and seemingly innocuous as Mason at age 6 digging up a dead bird in his backyard is treated with the same regard as the sex talk and an entire subplot about an abusive stepfather. These moments drift in and out of the consciousness of Boyhood, one of the most profound, beautiful, and best American films of the year.
Boyhood opens in New York and Los Angeles tomorrow. In L.A., it plays at the Landmark Theatre and Arclight Hollywood.