Over a 12-year period, young Mason grows up – raised by a single mother, with the biological father occasionally in the picture, he experiences every single drama that emerges from growing up – nothing more, nothing less.
A unique but everyday perspective
Admittedly, when I first started seeing the trailer for Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater, I was both skeptical and curious; filming over the period of 12 years with the same cast sounded like an unbearably exhausting project, but the value of it becomes clear as soon as the film starts. It is a classical coming-of-age story, and yet less ‘classical’ in the sense that it is, simply, what life is. We see young Mason (Ellar Coltrane) grow up before us on screen, and the effect is much stronger than in simply taking look-alike actors; it is a powerful attachment that is created throughout the whole film, and you get to know him in a way you normally wouldn’t – all those little mannerisms that are kept, and that could not be reproduced any other way. Together with his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), his mother (Patricia Arquette) and through important bonding moments with his father (Ethan Hawke), he experiences everything you need: from moving to a different city, over girl troubles and the abusive stepfather, to finding his passion and starting ‘the rest of his life’ when he goes off to college.
The most beautiful story you’ll ever see
…and while it may not be as spectacular as other movies with amazingly exciting plot twists at every corner, the appeal of this film is its verisimilitude – it is simply true. Even though the exact characters and events are fictional, they are at the same time large-as-life and, in that sense, both incredibly predictable and unpredictable – because that’s what life really is, isn’t it? And exactly that – the undisguised, unpolished life that is just going on, and bad things happen, and good things happen, but it all comes together in the end – is the reason why we simply know the characters from the very beginning. Their personalities may not have taken clear shape yet, but they are us, and we all have been them at one point or another. It may be even more effective for my generation: with Mason’s actor being only four years younger than I am, the period that is shown is still very vivid in my mind, and I’ve grown up around the same time; in a different country, but generally with a similar perspective. It is even more hilarious, then, to see Samantha dancing and singing loudly to Britney Spears’s Oops, I Did It Again, knowing full well that, although it’s a time you like to ban from your memories out of grown-up embarassment that comes only in hindsight, you used to be exactly that person. And for our parents’ generation, it must have a similar effect seeing all this, because these were, indeed, the conditions they raised us with – and all the annoying popular culture items from that time that we bothered them with constantly (because that’s what kids do, right?) just come back.
Identification at its deepest
Combined with simple, yet powerful visuals, we are then taken back to the last twelve years, essentially – a time that seems so close, and yet so far away. Through Mason’s eyes, you get to re-experience all the joy and despair of childhood, then the conflicting teenage years, and you are both in stitches and want to crawl under your seat once they get to have the embarrasing, and probably quite memorable, sex talk with the dad. They have a hard time adapting to the life-changing situations around them, and haven’t we all? Still, even though we see the world through Mason’s eyes and re-experience it with him being the centre of our two-and-a-half hour world, we still get to add quite a different perspective: the ‘been there, done that, hang in there’ perspective. In a way, maybe it is even a matter of re-investigating ourselves and our memories.
“I thought there’d be… more.”
The film ends on a bittersweet note: the first step towards living your own life, and it becomes clear then that the person we mostly identify with at that moment – the one we’ve probably been largely neglecting throughout the whole thing – is the mother, heartbroken because her fledglings finally leave the nest. It all goes by so quickly, and considering the bigger picture, quite unspectacular overall, the expectations had been, clearly, quite different. Again, it corresponds to our perspective: haven’t we approached the film thinking that there’d be ‘more’? Doesn’t the film play with us by thwarting our every dramatic expectation in moments like ‘Gosh, there’s a knife, someone will get horribly hurt! …or will they?’
Yet, the film doesn’t need to be ‘more’. It may not be the most exciting or nervewracking film, but it is sweet, and painful, and funny, and sad – it’s life. Nothing more, nothing less.
And that’s the most beautiful story you’ll ever get to tell.