Yesterday I spent nearly three hours with a boy who metamorphosized from age six to eighteen during our time together. We are made privy to his odyssey, and to a study in family dynamics in a less than perfect (translate: real) world.
Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” chronicles the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), and we feel privileged to witness it. Think of those times you see children of your friends, who have grown and evolved out of your purview. The shock is two-fold: they’ve matured into someone almost unrecognizable; and you are acutely reminded how much you’ve aged (they politely hide their shock, when they see you for the first time in years). Unlike our own progeny, whom we see daily, these offspring seem to have fast forwarded into adulthood.
But when you see a child’s aging process consolidated into one-hundred and sixty-six minutes (shot in thirty-nine days, over twelve years), it is a startling and profound experience. You weep with Mason’s mother as he leaves for college. Not simply because you identify with her; but because the actress, Patricia Arquette, has been a mother to her cinema “son” consistently for over a decade, and now this extraordinary project is complete. The bittersweetness is multifaceted.
But what is particularly startling about this work is Linklater’s gift for magnifying parenting skills that are, in the end, “good enough” (as British pediatrician and psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott, would say). Flawed as we all are as parents, somehow most of us raise children who are creative or sensitive or resilient or independent, and basically good people (and this is our having learned to parent from those persons who raised us: see Philip Larkin’s 1971 poem, “Repetition Compulsion”).
This film takes the everyday vignettes, the markers in our lives, and shines a loving and forgiving light on them. Mundane? Maybe. But Linklater’s lens elevates these events, and they mirror our own routines, making us feel that they were not in vain (and maybe we can even stop beating ourselves up over some of our mistakes). It makes the audience member proud to have “survived” childhood, and proud, if applicable, to be a parent.
I’m not sure whether it is Mr. Coltrane’s raw, quiet, unselfconscious talent (we experience the film through him); the enormous trust in the process (on the part of the director, and his cast and crew); the skilled editing; the evocative music; or the primitive chord this movie strikes in any viewer with a pulse. Whatever the alchemy at the core of this work of art, one shouldn’t over analyze it. One should simply take three hours out of one’s day, and allow this film to wash over them. They will be forever changed. And isn’t that what we desire from any artistic experience?