Boyhood, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year, is perhaps the most unique exploration of life that I have ever seen on film. It is a masterpiece that will be remembered for years to come. Writer/director Richard Linklater chose to film this fictional story of a boy growing up in Texas over the course of 12 years. That’s right, this film took 12 years to make. Linklater and his crew returned to Texas every summer from 2001 to 2013 to film a boy - Mason Jr., portrayed by Ellar Coltrane - as he ages from 6 to 18. The audience witnesses Coltrane maturing as an actor at the same pace his character matures. Likewise, his mother (Patricia Arquette), father (Ethan Hawke), and sister (Richard Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei Linklater) each grow older alongside Mason.
The music matures in sync with the characters as well. Each year in which the story takes place is accompanied by songs that were popular during that year. In the opening scene, Mason stares up at the sky while Coldplay’s “Yellow” reflects his innocent wonder at the world around him. As the film continues, the troubles of Mason’s split family are reflected through Blink-182’s “Anthem Part Two.” Towards the end of the film, Family of the Year’s “Hero” helps us to interpret Mason’s feelings as he drives off to college. (Boyhood excels in using music to provide meaning in a non-diegetic manner, a concept more fully explored by Kutter Callaway in his book Scoring Transcendence.)
One of the things I loved about Boyhood is how its cuts advance between years seamlessly. Every time the actors appear on screen noticeably aged from a previous scene, there are no subtitles to alert the audience to the fact that it is “One Year Later.” Instead, time flows smoothly, and the years blur together naturally into a single narrative stream. This lends an air of credence to the progression of the story; I certainly don’t always remember in which specific years memorable moments of my life took place. The work of editor Sandra Adair is quite effective, drawing me into the world of the film. The film could have ended at any point or continued on even further, but when it does end, I found myself wanting more of Mason’s story.
I was most impressed by Linklater’s decision to tell the story of Mason’s coming-of-age by not focusing primarily on his big life events. Rather, Mason’s story is presented as a amalgam of all of the in-between, ordinary moments of life. These moments include Mason riding his bike with his friends, asking his dad if elves and magic are real, going camping with his dad while talking about nothing and everything, receiving a gun, a Bible, and a blue suit for his fifteenth birthday (the film does take place in Texas after all), sitting in on his mom’s college class, and aimlessly wandering around town at an overnight college visit with his girlfriend. These moments are what make up the heart of the film.
The meaning in these ordinary moments is usually not fully grasped by Mason (or the audience) while he is experiencing them. For instance, early in the film Mason helps his mom move out of their house by painting over all of the pencil markings on the door frame that show his height throughout the years. This moment carries greater weight when contrasted with a moment later in the film as Mason is ready to move out and head off to college. Even though he has become very passionate about the art of photography, he wants to leave behind the frame with the first picture that he had ever taken. In both scenes, these reminders of important moments in Mason’s life are cast aside in favor of moving forward with the rest of life.
Important moments like these can certainly affect the trajectories of our lives, but Boyhood reminds us that life is primarily made up of ordinary moments. The monumental moments in our lives are not necessarily the most obviously important ones. The best times in life are the everyday, mundane moments of our existence in which we can simply enjoy being alive for the sake of life itself. Rejoicing in the everyday moments is what life is all about.
Here are a few other reviews of Boyhood you might find helpful from: