Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 164 mins, USA, 2014)

Photo Courtesy of SIFF
Ellar Coltrane as Mason in Boyhood (Photo Courtesy of SIFF)

Boyhood may be director Richard Linklater’s best film.  It’s certainly his most ambitious, shot over 12 years using the same principle actors to cover a 12-year-period in the main character’s life. That main character is Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane).  He lives with his mother Olivia ( Patricia Arquette) and older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater).   Mason is six when the film starts; his sister two years older.  The children’s father (Ethan Hawke) is no longer with their mother, but is allowed to visit them on weekends.  While he loves his kids, we get the sense that he is too irresponsible to care for them as their mother wants, and an argument between them is intentionally overheard by the children from an upstairs window. Throughout the course of the film, the family moves several times, their mother marries and divorces, their father remarries and has a kid, and Mason gets into photography.  Elementary school gives way to middle school, which gives way to high school, and then college.  Department store magazines with women in bras and panties progress to Internet porn and talking about sex with high schoolers.  Olivia reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to Mason and Samantha progresses to them going to a launch party for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  Mason’s hair style goes from long to longer to short to long back to short again.  In high school, he pierces his ears and lets girls paint his nails.  Both siblings go from not-so-serious relationships with the opposite sex to serious ones.  Flip phones give way to smart phones.  Coldplay’s “Yellow” gives way to Arcade Fire’s “Deep Blue.”

(Photo Courtesy of SIFF)
(Photo Courtesy of SIFF)

And yet, despite all the changes in their outward lives, the characters remain who they are at their core, even as they continue to grow and mature as people.  The boy looking up at the sky from his front yard is the same young man looking out over the landscape at the end.  The girl waking up her brother with her performance of “Oops, I Did It Again” is the same young woman who toasts her brother at his high school graduation by saying, “Good luck?”  The father who is much of a child himself at the beginning of the film is still the same one who has matured to the point where he can thank their mother for raising them, but doesn’t have any cash on him to help her pay for Mason’s tuition.  Finally, their mother is the same woman who got swept up with their father, and yet constantly sacrificed so that her kids could have the lives they deserved.  When Mason is packing up for college and she says, “This is the worst day of my life,” we know why.  She has lived for her kids, and now they will be living for themselves. I found myself drifting off at moments in this film, remembering scenes from my childhood.  The ones that came back most vividly were from high school and my freshman year of college.  I felt surrounded by these memories, memories that I didn’t know were so vivid.  Maybe, as one character remarks at the end of the film, we don’t seize the moment; the moment seizes us.  This film is about those moments.  Following them leads us to who we were and who we will be, as they make a path that leads both forward, and back.

This film played as the Centerpiece Gala at the 40th Seattle International Film Festival. It opens Friday at the Harvard Exit Theatre.