BOYHOOD directed by Richard Linklater (USA, 2014)
"Don't grow up - it's a trap" - T-shirt slogan. "So be it when I shall grow old, / or let me die! / The child is father of the man" - William Wordsworth - My Heart Leaps When I Behold (1802).
What a marvel of a movie this is!
12 years in the making, shooting for a few weeks each year, it follows the growing pains of Mason Jr from the age of 6 to 18. Over the course of 166 minutes, the movie shows this boy becoming a man through selected episodes that function in much the same way as memory does, through a gapped linear narrative.
Some reviewers have criticised Ellar Coltrane’s acting prowess which seems to me to miss the point of the project by a merry mile. To realise his role as Mason Jr, Coltrane is not required to get into character; he just needs to be himself. This means we see him as an ungainly, mumbling teenager and empathize with his discomfort as he reaches puberty. Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei plays his older sister and steals the show in the early scenes but it’s this boy’s life that takes centre stage.
Richard Linklater’s directing is, as ever, assured and intelligent. He does not resort to anything so corny as ‘One year later’ style captions, nor does he need to make obvious references to topical news stories to alert us to the passing years.
The first leap forward comes a jolt – one minute Mason’s mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) is flirting with a college professor, next we see the couple as honeymooners. But you quickly get used to these jumps in time.
Although the story is a fiction the ageing process of both children and adults gives a sense that we are watching real lives evolving.
The film’s strength lies in the way it represents the fumblings and uncertainties of both kids and grown ups. In this way it is more than just another coming of age movie, It shows that, essentially, everyone is at an awkward age looking to make some sense of our world. After all, there’s a real sense in which we are all continuously trying to balance the desire for security and adventure while coming to terms with all the conflicts and compromises this entails.
So we see how parents can be just as vulnerable and confused as teenagers. They struggle to present themselves as responsible adults while also trying desperately to appear cool and sorted out. The mother (Patricia Arquette) tries to build stability for her children yet has an unfailing ability to find the wrong partners and stepfathers. Ethan Hawke is superb as the errant father who retains his rebellious instincts yet gradually settles for a relatively conformist lifestyle.
Meanwhile, like all bright teenagers, Ethan Jr strives to escape a straight career path and is given to challenging conventional notions of what it means to be happy, fulfilled and successful. There’s a great scene in which his father informs him that no-one has all the answers to the big questions he is asking.
As Ethan Sr has learnt, we are all just ‘winging it’, trying to make sense of our lives as best we can.