‘BOYHOOD’ (2014): A FILM BY RICHARD LINKLATER

September 9, 2014 Film ReviewsUpdates  5 comments

 

Since its emergence in the late nineteenth century, cinema has continually evolved as a dynamic platform for examining and conveying the intricacies and possibilities of time.

As an automated, photo-chemical and, more recently, digital medium enlisted for the fixing and reproduction of scenery and movement, cinema has simultaneously engendered revolutionary ways of construing the passage of time, including visualising notions of immediacy, change, duration and multiple temporalities.

It is fitting, then, that the coming-of-age story has become a fertile, pervasive, and increasingly profitable fixture of cinema, with film-makers from different historical, geographical and cultural contexts making novel contributions to the genre. One such exponent is self-taught, maverick writer/director Richard Linklater whose prolific and distinguished career teems with films that address time and enquire into our complex, fluid and often turbulent relationship with its passage. In his latest outing, Boyhood, Linklater offers a prolonged meditation on the coming-of-age story by working with the same cast of actors over an extended period.

At the film’s opening, we encounter the bright-eyed and sky-gazing Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) at the sprightly age of six. Residing with his struggling single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and older, mischievous sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), Mason revels in the perks of childhood, including collecting rocks and animal vertebrae, tagging graffiti and perusing the female anatomy (courtesy of glossy lingerie catalogues). During the course of the film, however, we observe the young Mason grow and transform (physically and emotionally) into a tall, lean and gangly eighteen-year-old.

Over the course of 143 scenes stretched across 164 minutes of screen-time, we follow Mason as he confronts the challenges of childhood and adolescence, coping with the return of his biological father (Ethan Hawke), his mother’s multiple marriages (and subsequent divorces), and the exigencies of work, education, friendship and young love.

The expansive scope of Boyhood enables Linklater to situate the lives and identities of his characters within the shifting social, cultural and political milieu of new millennium America. As we watch Mason grow, graduate from high school and embark on college as a perceptive but sceptical young adult, we do so against the backdrop of events such as the repeat invasion of Iraq, the campaign of Barack Obama, the rise of social media, the dissolution of the family unit in the face of alcoholism and domestic violence, the paradox of the American Dream (maintaining fervent faith whilst brandishing deadly firearms), and the changing climate of art and music (the soundtrack of Mason’s life is rich and eclectic: Coldplay and Kings of Leon, Britney Spears and Lady Gaga, Arcade Fire and Family of the Year, among others).

The idea for Boyhood had been lingering in Linklater’s imagination for some time. ‘I’ve long wanted to tell the story of a parent-child relationship that follows a boy from the first through the 12th grade and ends with him going off to college. But the dilemma is that kids change so much that it is impossible to cover that much ground. And I am totally ready to adapt the story to whatever he is going through’, the director remarked in 2002.

This flexible and protean approach to storytelling was to preoccupy Linklater for more than a decade: he penned twelve individual scripts and filmed Boyhood incrementally from May 2002 to October 2013. The end result illuminated the primacy of memory and time in the incessant shaping of one’s life, identity and worldview. In an interview with Scott Tobias, Linklater reflects:

You see how life just accumulates. Our fundamental view of the world is measured by who we are today and who we’ve been, and that’s not going anywhere. It’s only expanding throughout our lives, it’s always profound and inescapable how we perceive the world through that viewpoint. So I think this movie conjures something in that area that’s really fundamental to how we process the world and time.

 

The perception and processing of time are recurring concerns in Linklater’s cinematic repertoire, directly informing the thinking of some his characters and the structure of the storytelling in films such as the audaciously experimental Slacker (1991), the nostalgic teenage satire Dazed and Confused (1993), and his uplifting and endearing tribute to childhood and music, School of Rock (2003).

With Boyhood, it is perhaps the tensions that haunt our experience of time (and cinema) – namely, the inseparability of presence and absence, “real” and simulated temporality, the individual moment and the greater whole (our uncertain past and enigmatic future) – that powerfully reverberate, accounting for the film’s philosophical complexity, its nuanced emotional range and sweeping, panoramic beauty.

 

 

– Dr. Varga Hosseini

 

 

 

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