Director. Richard Linklater.
Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater
Runtime: 165 minutes
Release Date: July 11th
It has been noted that the birth of the cinema at the turn of the 20th century coincided with the rise of time-travel narratives in literature, both focusing on a desire to control and manipulate time, to travel to a more advanced, evolved state. Boyhood, a coming-of-age story written, directed and shot by Richard Linklater with the same cast over a period of twelve years, could arguably be read as a benchmark for both cinema and time-travel narratives in some curious way. By presenting over a decade’s worth of development in just under three hours, and keeping the narrative as broad as ‘boy grows up, has a family and friends,’ its protagonist Mason (Coltrane) ages before our eyes from a sweet, playful six-year-old to a confident high-school graduate, offering snapshot glimpses of the moments in-between. (Twelve Years a Boy, then.)
The scattershot moments which Linklater chooses to linger on range from mundane everyday routines to milestone moments, to the breathtakingly lovely, the clichéd, and even the briefly traumatic. It seems consistent with memory, with what we choose to remember. There are emotionally-charged moments, visits and trips with largely-absent loved ones, moments of safety, humour and happiness, times of fear and darkness, with the wider world spinning away in the background (war in Iraq, anti-Bush sentiment, McCain vs. Obama, and, most heart-stopping of all, the midnight launch of the final Harry Potter book, are all cultural touchstones here.)
Some might criticise Linklater’s lax approach to structure, when certain narrative elements repeat themselves, or appear somewhat randomly and strangely. However, this seems to suit this particular project: Life has no three-act-structure.
The film hints beyond Mason’s own personal experiences of this era of his life: the continually-shifting arcs of his sister, Samantha (played by Linklater’s own daughter, Lorelei) and their divorced parents, Olivia (Arquette) and Mason Sr. (Hawke) are less in-focus, but equally compelling. Hawke’s character draws an especially engaging parallel with Mason. Initially presented as something of a third child, a drop-in, deadbeat dad in a band, and the source of a lot of the film’s biggest laughs, the film also documents his own actualisation over time. It is no coincidence that he is also named Mason – as if we are watching a slightly later version of our protagonist’s story, at the same time. That Linklater can offer both in one film is an astonishing accomplishment. The treatment of Mason’s mother also raises interesting questions about self-discovery, as her attempts to juggle motherhood and all its responsibilities with her own needs, desires, and separate relationships are equally heartbreaking and joyous.
Ellar Coltrane is superb as Mason, naturalistic, believable and quick, not acting so much as reacting to the world around him. There are moments when his teenage surly awkwardness could read as blank, disengaged … if you’ve never met a teenage boy. But that’s just how they are, sometimes, and it just serves to infuse the rest of his performance with charm and authenticity.
In an age where time-lapse photography goes viral and ‘big-picture’ television shows are among the most celebrated modes of storytelling, there has still never been anything quite like the time capsule of Boyhood, which deserves to be celebrated not only for its novel, quietly ambitious production, but for the powerful emotional response it will evoke in anyone who has ever grown up, at any point in their lives, or is continuing to do so.