Why 'Boyhood' Is Everybody's Story
Richard Linklater Honors The Human Condition With Coming-Of-Age Triumph
By Chris Azzopardi
Originally printed 8/1/2014 (Issue 2231 - Between The Lines News)
I remember the uncomfortable walks to the bus stop. Cradling my baby brother for the first time. How my mom would lick her hand to fix my hair. I can still feel the tightness in my chest if I think hard enough to recall the details of the day my dad tried to overdose on pain killers (I don't like to recall this). And I won't forget the times I pretended to "study" only because I was the "fag" without any real friends. I had one, though, who was always smiling. Those smiles made me happier than she probably knows.
Oh, memories. Sometimes they sit there in the back of everything else until something comes along to give them new life. A cinematic feat that has you growing up right along with its real-life protagonist, Richard Linklater's coming-of-age experiment, the poignant stunner "Boyhood," is that "something."
Over a 12-year span, as he ages out of innocence and into independence, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) becomes what we all inevitably become: something bigger. He develops his own worldview, his own political ideology and even his own philosophy on Facebook (that is, when Facebook actually becomes a thing).
The narrative is specific to Mason and his family's life, so it's a major triumph that Linklater makes those experiences the framework for our own. Mason isn't a mirror reflection of your life, but you can still see yourself in him. Using cultural touchstones to personalize his journey - one of Britney Spears' biggest hits; a game of "Oregon Trail"; presidential elections; in Mason's later years, an Arcade Fire song - his life becomes a map of ours.
It's a path we're on for 12 years, but it's not just Mason's journey. Everyone around him is an integral piece of his puzzle, particularly his vaguely named birth parents, played with multi-layered realness by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, and older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the filmmaker's talented daughter). Integral to his transformation into young adulthood, Mason's just-as-lost parents are key in conveying what we come to find out as adults: That even after we're done being kids, we're still growing up. "We're all just wingin' it," his father concedes.
Relevant to the film, the line also speaks to the making of it. Over a decade ago, Linklater couldn't have known exactly how his narrative would unfurl, and if his vision was something Coltrane could bring to the screen. Casting Coltrane as Mason at the age of 6, and following his growth thereafter (the actors themselves also age with Coltrane), was as much a chance as life itself.
Sure, Linklater knew then, at the onset of the shoot, that he had a capable kid on his hands, but he couldn't have known what would happen as he aged. But Coltrane never falters in his portrayal of Mason, who, even as he turns a page in the final scene, feels so much like "ours" that it's hard to give him up. Like his mother, however, we have no choice. This is now her reality too - a reality she recognizes as her son goes off to college. Lamenting, "I thought there'd be more," you feel that way too ... for her, for Mason, for yourself.
Linklater's love letter to youth - and to the human condition as a whole - affectionately captures those transformative years, recognizing that, for better or worse, this too shall pass. As scenes fall into each other, time has a profound duality: It has the gradual pacing of how life tends to unfold, but then the fly-by feeling we get when we look back on it.
Watching "Boyhood," a nostalgic masterpiece that will be the benchmark for all other coming-of-age stories after it, is like clenching a tight fist of sand, and then letting it go only to watch it fall between your fingers. For three hours, I could recapture at least some of it.
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