The rites-of-passage tale has been covered in cinema countless of times before but never as magnificently accomplished as this, taking an ambitious, experimental leap across time – a film undertaking over the course of 12 years – to chart the growth of a child to an adult while capturing all the essence of growing up in between. Boyhood may seem familiar. It compounds all what we’ve seen before in many coming-of-age movies – the joys, pains, confusions, anxieties, hopes and dreams – but it chronicles this boy’s life in a much broader scope, overcoming the logistical challenges of real time and real people growing up in front and behind the camera throughout the years. Viewed from this perspective, it’s all the more remarkable that this project managed to reach the finish line. It’s a testament to the creative commitment of Richard Linklater, without a doubt one of America’s brightest, enduring filmmakers, and to everyone involved in giving us something akin to a lightning in a bottle for all of us to behold.
If truth be told, this stands alongside Linklater’s Before trilogy in its thematic evocation of the passage of time, following the characters’ physical and emotional evolution (and simultaneously the actors themselves throughout life’s rich tapestry of experiences. Mason (played with understated, beautiful consistency by Ellar Coltrane) is the core to which the film anchors its gaze, along with a slightly older sister Samantha (daughter of director Lorelei Linklater) and their separated parents Olivia and Mason Sr. (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, both providing professionally impressive dedication to the project). For a few days every year from 2002 to 2013, Linklater chronicles the quotidian details of Mason’s childhood up to his eventual maturation as an independent adult without pandering to the pieties of plot or grand overstatements. Like the best of Linklater’s films, he successfully manages to find warmth, wit, humour and incredible resonance from the simplest events in life – conversations between children, angry rows between parents, contemplative dialogues about past, present and future, pop-culture references and even parental lectures about first sex and contraception.
One thing you can never (and mustn’t) accuse this film of is a lack in narrative momentum. This is not that movie. If your life moves in a break-neck pace doesn’t mean everyone else’s does. Get off your speeding racket, and indulge in the gentle flow of time. Boyhood unfolds unhurriedly, much like life itself, and Linklater’s purpose it to create a film that captures the moments in time, in all its banalities, complexities and the tiny, little profundities of what it means to take responsibility for yourself. Which makes this universal – a wonderful reminder that when we arrive in a specific juncture in time, that’s because we’ve been through a lot to get there. Seeing Boyhood is mostly like going through a photograph album, with all the glorious details and memories reaching a nostalgic zenith of time – something that, in Linklater’s perspective, is not really lost time but rather become absorbed as part of our personal growth. It’s a beautiful, optimistic thesis writ large across Linklater’s groundbreaking compendium of fictional narrative, cinematic medium and the human experience of life.