Boyhood (2014) Review

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Boyhood: a film shot over the course of 12 years, starting in 2002. Having been born in 1995, I’m only a year older than the protagonist, Mason. His childhood is my childhood, and to a small extent, his film is my film. There are thousands of people out there who will review this film but only a handful will be able to connect to it on this level. That’s not to say the events in the film happened to me, but rather it’s just a fundamental understanding of what a character is feeling because you felt it at the same time, with the same music, styles and, events floating around your head.

Of course this film was going to work for me. Of course I was going to like it, but as I watched it I wondered how this film appeals to everyone else. What do they get out of it? Boyhood is ultimately three stories, that of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), his father (Ethan Hawke), and his mother (Patricia Arquette). Through the eyes of Mason we see the stories of his parents (and everyone else around him) unfold. The stories of their lives weaving through his. Hawke’s Dad struggling with maturity and responsibility; Arquette’s Mom trying to find herself outside of her family, but struggling to care for them nonetheless; Coltrane’s Mason, a boy thrown from home to home, with a constantly evolving idea of family and of life.

Boyhood is less a narrative and more an experience, and a tightly constructed one at that. For being shot over 12 years, Linklater’s film manages to be even smoother than a documentary covering the same time period would be. The experience is so immersive at times that you forget you are watching fiction. As the film goes on though, what became puzzling for me was the thematic question: What is this film actually about?

Your identity? Your path in life? The people around you?

This question started to bother me about two thirds through and I finally started taking notes, probably a little too late. Appropriate, putting it in contrast with my life. Normally I wouldn’t review a film I don’t feel I have full grasp of, but in this case, as in life, I think the experience is more important than the analysis.

In case you haven’t guessed, Boyhood is ultimately about life, and because of this, it’s somewhat open-ended as to what its themes are. Everyone will (hopefully) pull something different from it, as they would any other two hours of their life.

In the final moments of the film a high teenager yells to a beautiful desert landscape that “all of time” has opened up to him. Meanwhile, Mason and a cute girl are talking about moments: how they seize us and how life is just a series of them. In there is perhaps the most important message to me: Despite the fact that Boyhood is all of time, Mason’s time, laid out in front of us, what ultimately matters are the moments.

Boyhood is not a film with some overarching plot or fight against a bad guy, but rather just that: moments that compound onto each other until they finally start coalescing into something with meaning, hence why it took me so long to realize I should be paying attention.

The best films try to teach you something about life. Boyhood is a film that asks you to teach yourself about life. There are hundreds of thousands of people who will watch this. Out of them, most will find it cute, but ultimately uneventful. Some will feel the meaning, but go to bed unaffected. A handful will be impacted, permanently and deeply. I like to think I’m the latter. Boyhood is a film that will stay with me forever. A film that encapsulates my childhood, but will hopefully still find lessons to teach me no matter what period of my life I’m in.

So there it is. What a 19 year old with the same video games, dorky clothes, and angsty attitude towards the world thought of Boyhood. Thought you ought to know.

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