‘This is the worst day of my life. I new this day would come, but I didn’t expect you to be so happy about it. … I just thought there would be more.’
Age Rating: 15+*
Overall Rating: ★★★★
(*NB. Contains strong language and scenes of drug use.)
(Minor spoilers within this review.)
I cam across Boyhood a couple of weeks ago, after seeing some good reviews describing it as ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘ingenious’. This, naturally, intrigued me, and I decided to make a trip of it, going to see it in a tiny, local cinema for a more intimate feel – and when I walked out almost three hours later, I knew I’d made an excellent choice. Following the story of two siblings, brought up by their single mother (Patricia Arquette) as she stumbles through several re-marriages and an uncertain relationship with the children’s biological father (Ethan Hawke), Boyhood lives and breathes a feeling of gentle intrusion upon family life, maintaining a cinematic rather than raw feeling with its drifting panoramic shots and atmospheric music.
What sets the film apart from other nostalgic coming-of-age dramas is its set-up – filmed over twelve years, it follows the life of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) and his family, but using the same cast throughout. There is at times, therefore, a sense of inauthenticity in the acting of the children (in particular some of Lorelei Linklater’s scenes as Mason’s sister, Samantha), but as a whole it feels almost too real for cinema. This at times shaky acting is always quickly masked by equally brilliant moments, and the growing familiarity with Coltrane as he grows up on screen adds to the familiarity that oozes from many of his and Arquette’s exchanges. As with Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition, Richard Linklater creates a film in which nothing extraordinary happens. There is no action per se, other than what would go on in a somewhat dysfunctional divorced-parent family; and while there is no final, punchy and meaningful ending, this sense of passivity that emanates from Mason and Sam is drawn together in the closing lines: ‘You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us.’ says a girl newly acquainted with Mason as they watch the sunset.
This passivity generates the feeling of Mason’s maturation and the formation of a human being, with him often standing with us, back to the camera, in his earlier years, as if to observe things as they happen to him. As he ages, his stance changes, and he reacts physically and verbally to events, until, in this final shot, his eyes come to rest on the lens for a brief fraction of a second. But this isn’t to say that there is a feeling of drive and purpose within the ‘plot’ – it still remains a fragmented tapestry of life and living, of growing up and growing old, and a brilliantly quiet sense of the ticking of the clock, shown through the chronological soundtrack leading us from Coldplay to Arcade Fire to Family of the Year and regular pop culture references from Harry Potter to Star Wars to Britney Spears. As Mason replies, ‘Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s constant, the moments, it’s just – it’s like it’s always right now, isn’t it?’
And this is precisely the feeling that pervades the film – a place of liminality, in which Mason’s life seems to hover between the finite bounds of cinema and the ‘constant moments’ of his future; a future which seems both distant and present at once. Throughout Boyhood, I had a sense of being on the brink at all times of disaster or ecstasy, and this tension seems to echo some vital core of our own being that leaves us drifting out of the theatre feeling like we have relived our childhood all over again.