Friday, August 22, 2014

Richard Linklater's Boyhood Is An Achievement

We saw Boyhood this week, a challenging film at times and a remarkable achievement. The film synopsis begins like this:

Filmed over 12 years with the same cast, Richard Linklater's BOYHOOD is a groundbreaking story of growing up as seen through the eyes of a child named Mason (a breakthrough performance by Ellar Coltrane), who literally grows up on screen before our eyes. Starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason's parents and newcomer Lorelei Linklater as his sister Samantha, BOYHOOD charts the rocky terrain of childhood like no other film has before.

This is not a documentary of a boy's life. It is a movie in which the entire cast ages together over a twelve year period. It's essentially a story about a boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane), beginning at age 6 and carrying through to his first day of college in his eighteenth year.

The film begins with squabbles related to the problems of children being shuttled between divorced parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) and weaves its way through many of the life experiences we all encountered in childhood, from becoming aware of girls to school, to moving away from friends, to fitting in, to encountering drinking, drugs and social media (O.K., so my generation didn't have this) to learning responsibility. Mason has a sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) who also grows older with him, but this is essentially Mason's story, though every character in his family is developed and is a part of the whole.

In any good story each character has a driver, and Linklater's story is skilled at painting vivid characters in the immediate family. His mother takes two more cracks at marriage during Mason's life, both ending in failure. His father marries into a Christian family and becomes stable and more rooted. The Christianity piece is handled with respect and thoughtfulness.

Boyhood captures on film the challenges of growing up in a broken home. A generation ago this story would have been an exception to the norm, but today we see mixed families across the economic spectrum. Mason experiences having new siblings when mom re-marries, and the confusion when mom and stepdad divorce and the ties are torn along with the heartstrings.

As you can imagine, the challenge of casting child actors must have been immense. One wonders to what degree Linklater got lucky or what degree of work was involved. Mason's character did not require him to do overmuch "acting" per se. He is to some extent an existential observer of life who only later articulates some of his internal dialogue when he has matured and is in more mature relationships. This piece was handled profoundly well. The story was told visually with no artificiality plastered on. That kind of treatment would have wounded the movie.

Not everyone likes this film. There are some who say that "slice of life" is not a story. I believe there really is a story in this film which comes across as slice of life. The characters don't just age together. Each changes, each has his or her own quest. It's just not "in your face."


I did have a problem with the very last scene in this film which ends with Mason's first day of college. Linklater may or may not have meant it this way, but it seemed to be a commercial endorsement of a "path to enlightenment" that usually doesn't. The dialogue was good, and the point of it holds. Life is a series of points in time which in the moment is always now. Do we really need magic mushrooms to really experience life's magic?

* * * *
While reading some of my grandmother's poems last night I stumbled upon this one about boys. I was the oldest of four boys and it may have been written while she was taking care of us once, or maybe with her own two sons a generation earlier, who were indeed a handful I am sure.

Little Boys

Little boys just can’t be still —
Why do we think they should?
They would like to please us
If they only could.

But it is so very hard
Their chattering to still —
Their voice run on all the time
Like the busy rill.

They drive us near distracted
With their sharp demands
And their calm ignoring
 Of our coaxingest commands.

But if some happening unforeseen
Should snatch them quite away
The silence that would follow
And o’er our lives hold sway

Would terrify the boldest
And turn black hairs to gray!
Oh, that this may not happen
Each night we kneel to pray!

Elizabeth Sandy

Meantime... life goes on all around. Embrace it.

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