Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Linklater's BOYHOOD: A Collection of Moments


Maybe you’ve heard some of the hype for Richard Linklater’s latest film, Boyhood. Critics are unanimous in their praise; several news sources are already predicting a Best Picture Oscar for next year. I’m a fervent fan of Linklater’s Before trilogy (I wrote about Before Midnight here), and I fully expected to like this movie, which is described in one sentence at the IMDb database: “The life of a young man, Mason, from age 5 to age 18.” And like it I did, immensely, but it also struck a particular nerve because I think this film comes closest to any kind of artistic aesthetic or technique I may strive for myself.
A remarkable and much-discussed aspect of the film is that it was filmed over a period of eleven+ years, so you have the strange experience of watching the boy, actor Ellar Coltrane, age from childhood to adulthood. But this parlor trick of sorts never overtakes the story; it is never announced or celebrated. This is a quiet, time-capsule of a film. One scene blends into the next, as years do. It's a realistic drama about relatable events, a story with the overarching characteristic that there isn't, really, a story. It’s just what happened to Mason, during the time when he was a boy. And it’s riveting and touching and at times, nostalgic. We watch as technology evolves from early video games to iPhones, we note Mason’s experimentation with haircuts, drugs and girls, and we see his parents’ failed marriage and their ensuing relationships through his eyes. There’s a day when Mason’s father, played wonderfully by Ethan Hawke as a Peter Pan character, a dreamer and drifter who, nevertheless, becomes a pretty great father, takes Mason and his sister to a park, then a baseball game. That’s it. No dramatic occurrences, no pronouncements or arguments, and yet, it rings so true because it’s exactly the sort of day that you might remember from childhood.

We’re conditioned to look for big events, for cataclysmic and catastrophic plot twists, for obvious character change and development. But this isn't often how real life is. Sometimes nothing huge happens; sometimes, people don’t change much. What is life, if not a series of moments, the memories we return to for sustenance or pain? As a writer, I like to present a collection of moments and let the reader decide what they mean, if anything. There is much space for contemplation in Linklater’s film. We are free to think of it what we will, to draw our own conclusions about Mason’s life and by extension, our own. It’s a beautiful portrayal of people and their complicated relationships and it’s different from any movie you’ve seen. This is a coming-of-age story that will stay with you for a long, long time.


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"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka