As I was watching the final reels of Boyhood (a scene where Mason, an 18 year boy, is packing his belongings and preparing to leave his mother to study in college), I saw a middle aged lady sitting in front of me wiping her tears. Moments later, I was doing the same. We both were feeling heartbroken at the same scene, albiet for different reasons. The lady must have been reminded of the time when her son or daughter left to study or work, whereas, I was feeling nostalgic of the time when I left my home, my parents to pursue higher education. The situation's same, but the perspectives, different. And that's what is so strikingly magical about Boyhood. It doesn't matter if you are somebody's son, daughter, mother, father, brother or sister. You will come out affected, even changed, as you watch the film from a perspective you choose to.
Boyhood, more than just a film, is an observance. An observance of a 6 years old boy growing up to become an 18 years old adult. An observance of what a mother has to go through to raise children. An observance of what a father means to his children and vice-versa. An observance of a family and their struggles, their joys, their sorrows. Basically, an observance of a life or rather, lives.
Filmed over a period of 12 consecutive years, Boyhood is the longest shot film in history of cinema. And the results are magical to say the least. You see all the main characters age in front of your eyes in a span of 3 hours. (Not what you are used to seeing in movies where a child actor is employed to play hero's younger self. Here, both the younger and older selves are played by the same actor(s)) To be honest, any amount of words will fall short of describing the beauty, the tenderness, the epic-ness of Boyhood. A film so deft in its design, and so fluid in its rendering, that after a while you might have to keep reminding yourself that what you are watching is a fictional family's life captured on cinema, and not the reality of life itself.
Boyhood follows the story of a family whose youngest member, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is the central character (He is 6 when the story opens and 18 when it ends), though the film is not only about him. The film is also about his sister who herself grows from 8 to 20. It's also about his mother Olivia (Patrcia Arquette) and her struggles with career, men, and raising 2 children. Finally, it's also about his father (Ethan Hawke) who has divorced his mother and comes every once in a while, to spend some fun time with him and his sister.
While all of this may appear routine or mundane to you, it is surprisingly the real strength of Boyhood. It relies on deriving beauty, joy and emotion out of the ordinary lives of people and not from any heightened act of drama (bread and butter for most of the movies). It's fascinating to see how from scene to scene, not only are there changes in physicality of characters, but also you will notice the transformation in their fashion, hairstyle, taste in music, and in general, perspectives about life.
It doesn’t matter which country, city or neighborhood you grew up in, you will associate yourself with Mason; and the twinkle in his eyes; and the countless hopes and dreams in them, unmarred by the cynicism of the world around him. Though, as Mason becomes an adult, you realize, Mason is different from what most of us are. As we grow into adults, most of us, somewhere, somehow, get lost in the transition. But, not Mason. He doesn’t let the cynicism around him affect his world view. As his teen girlfriend put it “You are weird”. Most of us will try to run away from that identity. But, not Mason. His teacher warns him that his passion of photography isn’t going to take him anywhere. Most of us will pay heed to the advise and relent. But, not Mason. He decides to follow his heart. Perhaps, this is the biggest life lesson out of Boyhood: Don’t let the world around affect the dreams that you saw as a child, as a boy, as a girl.
But having said that, DON'T lead yourself into believing that Boyhood is just about a young boy's dreams and ambitions. It's so much more than that. Boyhood is also a fond reminder of the bygone years of uninhibited joy, unwavering optimism and bubbling innocence, when we lived a free-spirited life unadulterated by the responsibilities and worries that plague adulthood. Believe it or not, but Boyhood is as much about parenthood as it is about boyhood or girlhood. If anything, it might actually be a more cathartic experience for parents to watch this film. To see your child grow up, learn from you and everything around, stumble and then get up and then finally, to see him/her depart on a journey of his/her own, could be both painful and prideful. In the end of it all, Boyhood is about growing up: be it a child growing up to become an adult, or, parents growing up to meet the needs of children and vice-versa.
With Boyhood, covering so many spectrums of life, it's befitting that it has turned out be a film that also has wide array of emotions in it. So, it is affecting one moment, and uplifting, the very next; it's sad one moment, and funny, the very next. One scene where the father tries to explain his teen daughter about sex and contraceptives is particularly hilarious. Then, in a gorgeously shot scene on the streets of Austin, Mason and his girlfriend roam around carelessly, and then wait for sunrise on a terrace, is very reminiscent of Before Sunrise. I can go on and on, but it's an experience that needs to be savored first hand.
It’s pretty evident Richard Linklater, the director, sees himself in Mason. He ventured into making films pretty young not caring much about education or a degree. I am sure, he would have faced challenges around him not very dissimilar to Mason – working single mother, migrating from one city to another and a dissuading society. And there are stamps of him throughout the film especially in the long conversations that he has become so masterful at -- not surprisingly, considering he has Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight on his resume. Though, while in Before series of films he captures moments in time, separated 9 years from one another, in Boyhood he lets the time flow over the course of 12 years. And time, will itself do justice to this film, when several years from now, it will be referred to as Linklater's masterpiece.