A scrapbook by Richard Linklater.
The main character’s name in Boyhood is not Mason. His name is also David. And Connor. And Warren. Aaron. Stacey. Tony. Eric. Steven. Ben. Richard. And so on and so forth until you’ve listed every masculine name in the dictionary. I probably went eight names over how many I needed to list, but you get my point. We’re doing more than just watching one boy’s journey into adulthood here. We’re watching ourselves grow with him.
Strange, I think. I don’t normally sympathize with characters to the point where I feel like I AM them. Relating to protagonists is a somewhat straightforward task; you merely need to introduce the character along with their conflict, and then let the filmmaker do his work to bringing their arc to life.
But with Boyhood, I face an interesting prospect: there is no one conflict that Mason faces in the story. Like myself and my closest family and friends, Mason’s conflict is life itself, complete with all of its blessings, gifts, challenges, and turmoils alike. If you’re still not getting the picture, let me put it to you this way; if I were a filmmaker, and I were adapting the full story of your life, would I be able to condense it into one or two events?
The answer is no, I couldn’t. There is a whole multitude of issues you’ve faced in your life, just like I did, and I’m sure we could turn those issues into ten or twelve more movies if we tried. Director Richard Linklater chose not to do that. With Boyhood, he took one boy’s life, a small child he found named Ellar Coltrane, and followed him from age six until age 18, gradually showing his life progress and the challenges he faced as he grew into a man year, by year, by year.
It’s fascinating I tell you, to watch a movie progress from one generation to another. I look at Ellar as a young boy obsessing over cartoons and action figures while his sister, portrayed by Linklater’s daughter Lorelei, constantly talks about makeup and Britney Spears. I look at these children’s parents, played by a significantly younger Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, as they struggle to connect and be there for their children and to be the best parents they possibly can be. It’s interesting to see these children mature from young, simple-minded beings to young adults, trying to find their own paths in life while their parents mature from being those young adults to the older, more mature parents that have faced, and survived, every difficulty they could have ever faced.
It’s pointless to describe what the plot of the movie is like. What is the plot of the movie? Fill the movie with your life experiences, and you have the plot. I caught myself many times reliving past memories while watching the movie, sympathizing with Mason as I remember how I too faced issues such as bullying, peer pressure, puberty, growing up, and finding a place where I belonged.
It’s not so much a movie as it is a scrapbook of memories, and Linklater is merely showing the memories on screen like he’s pulling a photograph out of a book.
What of the performances then? Patricia and Ethan are the most emotive performances out of the movie, but that’s to be expected considering they’ve been working on this movie, among others, for literally a decade. Lorelei is cute as a child at the beginning of the film, but as the movie continues on, it begins to focus more on Ellar while Lorelei, more or less, fades in to the background.
That being said, Ellar isn’t the most compelling actor in the film. As a child at the beginning, he is the most believable, but that’s because he’s living, not acting, in the moment. When he’s playing with his friends or when he’s dressed up for the Harry Potter premiere, you know that’s him being excited in the moment, similar to how Drew Barrymore believed E.T. was real during the filming for E.T: The Extra Terrestrial. As he gets older, however, he gets less emotional about things and more or less goes through the motions wherever Linklater guides him.
At first, I thought this was an obvious criticism to the film, because how is a kid going to maintain his acting ability through 12 years of his life? As I look deeper, however, I realize that Ellar isn’t intended to give a performance. He isn’t meant to be an actor, but a surrogate, a character whose emotions and memories we fill in the film and then we sympathize with because those are the same emotions we faced when we were his age.
Mason goes through a lot in this movie. As a toddler, he witnesses his parents go through divorce. As a child, he faces abuse from his alcoholic stepfather. As a teenager, bullying. As a high schooler, heartbreak. This movie is so tangible that it made me want to grab hold of Mason. It made me want to hold him and hug him, telling him the same thing my mother told me when I was going through my own issues at his age.
I want to grab him and say to him, “You’re going to be okay, Mason. You’re going to be okay.”