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Richard Linklater is a visual anthropologist with the brilliant ability to artfully chronicle the passing of time.
Linklater is known for commercial films such as Dazed and Confused, School of Rock, and The Bad News Bear; but it is his initial film trilogy that examines what happens in a life shared over several years. Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight are the original constructs for the examination of time. Each movie of the Before Trilogy revolves around the characters Jessie (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), who meet on a train and disembark in Vienna where they fall in deep attraction, possibly even love; and in subsequent movies over ten-year increments of time, the trajectory of their romantic connection is showcased, each time over the course of a single day.
Linklater met a woman in Philadelphia who inspired the Before Trilogy and he stated on IMDB, “She kind of echoes throughout the film… I always felt I would see her, like she would show up at a screening… I figured, just in my mind, ‘I have a screening in Philadelphia; maybe she’ll be in New York’… And she never showed up… [Linklater learned that the woman died in a motorcycle accident shortly Before Sunrise began filming]”
In another IMDB quote, Linklater shares, “You see how life just accumulates. Our fundamental view of the world is measured by who we are today and who we’ve been, and that’s not going anywhere. It’s only expanding throughout our lives, it’s always profound and inescapable how we perceive the world through that viewpoint…”
Which is to say that Life sneaks up on everyone; Life is insidious and incremental. No one really believes life is happening; which is why there is a lot of postponing of Life until something BIG happens; like, “when I get that new outfit;” “once I get that one job;” “when I get married;” “when I buy my first house;” or “after I turn 16, 18, 21, 30, 52…” While waiting for whatever BIG thing is on the agenda, those in-between moments are also filled with life but are not taken as seriously until fate intervenes and causes a flashback and/or retrospective moment to show that every single day is important, and all of the “boring” and “regular” days are filled with lovely nuances and moments that ultimately have more value and meaning than originally thought. Within families and neighborhoods where time is spent day in and day out with one another, changes are not as striking or as noticed as they are by those who only come around for the holidays and special events; height, facial hair, deepening voices, new attitudes and opinions are always assessed and pointed out and critiqued by those looking with new eyes; but those closest never “see” the growth until they look into the recesses of their minds’ eyes.
Richard Linklater provides a look into and beyond these unspoken societal tenets with his Oscar nominated and multiple award winning labor of love. While the working title of Boyhood was A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words, a better title would be a line from the film: “What’s the point of everything?” This appears to be the silent question of this remarkable twelve year journey. Richard Linklater manages to accomplish two monumental feats in bringing in the same cast and crew together – annually, for over a decade – to share in the telling of a six-year-old boy and his family dealing with the simplicities of what becomes a look at everyday, familial existentialism.
SPOILER ALERT: The six-year-old grows up.
The opening frames of Boyhood are innocuous at first and the question forms, “Why am I watching this?” But soon the quiet story is so engrossing and heartfelt that 164 minutes have passed and there is a strong desire to see the Mason, Jr./Ellar Coltrane’s evolution over the next twelve years.
Richard Linklater’s masterful approach is reminiscent of a how a life is remembered; albeit our own or those that touch and intertwine with our own histories. Mason, Jr.’s life is depicted in a series of rites of passages, milestones and trajectory moments which are part of the global inventory in everyone’s time capsule.
Boyhood as a whole is an amalgamation of familial perfection, not in the sense that the family depicted is perfect; but instead, the underlying layering of a family dynamic that at first glance looks messy and appears may go the way of a not-so-happy outcome, but over time the evidence of triumph is experienced in spite of every decision made by Mom/Olivia (Patricia Arquette), Dad/Mason, Sr. (Ethan Hawke), Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), or Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane).
Linklater depicts the different relationships between mothers and daughters; mothers and sons; divorced fathers and their children; and several combinations of the extended family paradigm. Linklater shows that the primary caregiver, Mom/Olivia (Patricia Arquette) attempts to raise Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and Mason, Jr./M.J. (Ellar Coltrane) the same, but each child, as children do in real life, demands and receives customized lessons, mommy-time, and solitary interactions.
Initially it appeared that Dad was a flake and a let-down, but ultimately, while he was a bit late to the parental party, he was more than a weekend guest and became an integral part in the upbringing of his children. (The actor Ellar Coltrane is an only child but his interactions with fellow actor, Lorelei Linklater, were sibling perfection.)
The first thought is that the story of the single-mother is familiar, but as time progresses the authenticity of Patricia Arquette’s character becomes far from stereotypical. There are believable moments that show a woman trying to raise productive citizens while, like most single mothers, trying to be a productive citizen with an active sex life. Samantha and M.J.’s Mom does an excellent job of trying to hold it all together while trying to better herself and her children’s environment. While Mom does not make the best romantic choices and frequently moves the children, ultimately she does achieve her goal and Samantha and Mason, Jr. appear to be on the path of being independent, free-thinking, individuals.
While both Mom and Dad feel that each came to the parental table with unresolved issues between them, both agree that the children are the real answer to any unanswered questions. Both come to realize that whatever preconceived notions and ideas they harbored regarding the other’s parenting skills and/or motivations, they were both “right” in their approach to their children and the children would not have been as successful had it not been for their non-traditional co-parenting efforts.
Mom and Dad initially spend the bulk of their parental teachings attempting to indoctrinate Samantha and Mason, Jr. to their ways of thinking about the world. By the end of the 12-year period, Samantha and Mason, Jr. have found their footing and are living their lives in an organic way, in which real-life children who are allowed to flourish and bloom in their natural habitats can identify. Both Samantha and Mason, Jr. are college bound, free spirited, and responsible young adults, which causes a sense of pride in Dad who appears glad that the children did it in spite of their unorthodox upbringing. Realizing that she has accomplished her goal in raising two fine young adults is a source of angst for Mom, who has spent each day and every waking hour since their births making sure that she is making all of the right choices for her babies; and after finally finding herself with an empty nest she asks herself how she missed the time passing; and how did she get to the place where twelve years have passed, leaving a mountain of golden memories she cannot fully remember making with an ex who turned out to be a pretty good dad, and two children who successfully navigated their individual paths to the other side of girl- and boyhood.
Boyhood shows that truth lives within every cliché regarding the hands of time, including one of the most used, ‘it’s not the destination but the journey.’ Linklater says that one of the most stirring moments of the whole production came for him at the very end, while shooting the last scene, as Mason, no longer a boy, heads into the mountains, and into the vast unknown, on his first day at college. There is a sense that Mason’s life could take any infinite number of turns from this point forward, but all we know for sure is where he has been. “The last shot in the movie is the actual last shot… I just know I will never have another moment like that at the end of a movie… The end of a shot at the end of every movie I can kind of remember, but this was that times 12. You can imagine the build up over time. The same way it works narratively, slowly building, the crew felt it. It just built and built and then we got to the end and it was indescribable, really… I remember standing there and the sun was setting and there was just this incredible vibe… It was the final shot of a 12-year experience and there’s just no way to describe that feeling. It’s not something that can be repeated.”
Thus, bringing the entire Boyhood experience to a surreal full-circle moment where the character’s memory becomes a real memory for everyone involved in the “45-day” life of the film.
The film was shot from 2002 to 2013, including a year of pre-production and two years post-production with an eventual production crew of 400 members. During this time span, sixteen children were born to the cast and crew. Ellar Coltrane (Mason, Jr.) grew 27 inches and underwent 72 haircuts. $200,000.00 was the annual production budget with a final $2.4 million dollar spent on a 164-minute movie that has grossed-to-date $43.5 million dollars. Boyhood was nominated for eight Academy Awards, ultimately losing out to Birdman for Best Picture and Best Achievement in Directing.
On February 8, 2015, Boyhood won the Best Picture and Best Director BAFTA Awards and during a lovely acceptance speech Ellar Coltrane beautifully summed up the creation of Richard Linklater’s innovative vision: “It’s definitely a shame Rick couldn’t be here… Hopefully he will agree with what I have I have typed in this ridiculous device here… we get asked a lot if we expected the way Boyhood has been received and the answer is of course not… uhm the truth is that it didn’t really feel like a movie for most of time we were making it… it felt more like an exercise of collaboration and vulnerability… and so it was really scary to release something so close to all of us to audiences that really aren’t as understanding as they have been… this… most of this year… uhm but the beautiful thing that I’ve learned is that when you make yourself vulnerable in way you make everyone around you vulnerable as well… and the fact that a movie like this… that is most interested in just the simplicity of human interaction is being recognized alongside such rad pieces of art… to me means that… that life itself without anything explosive or tragic… must be more exciting than we let on… and I think that’s something we can all be reminded of… so thank you to the BAFTAs and everyone…”
Mason, Jr.’s mom, dad, and big sister, Samantha, would be very proud.
CeeJaye @CeeJayeWrites is a freelance writer and self-proclaimed Literary Chameleon. Her work includes nearly four years as a columnist for London’s LIVE Magazine, penning an episodic series for N.Y. Cable Access Television, and co-authoring “Racism and Real Life” for academic journal, The Radical Teacher. Living abroad heightened Cee Jaye’s appreciation for food, art, and travel. Currently, she resides in Southern California with her family and has completed her first novel.