Read two critical perspectives on Boyhood (2014, Richard Linklater), from Alexandros Anas and Terrence Arjoon. Boyhood is playing at the Embarcadero and Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco and opens all over the Bay Area on Friday, July 24.
BOYHOOD: A Celebration of Becoming
by Alexandros Anas
To spoil specific moments from Richard Linklater’s Boyhood would rob viewers of the wonders and surprises waiting to be discovered in his transformative masterpiece. Boyhood opens simply—Mason (Ellar Coltrane) lies on the grass, staring into the sky. Over the course of the film audiences will stare into the face of this curious 5-year-old and watch his transformation, both physically and emotionally, into an 18-year-old man. The physicality of Mason’s transformation is a major part of the film’s cinematic power. Richard Linklater has created a work of art that transcends and surpasses cinema as we have known it. He provides a spectatorial experience unlike any other, though intriguingly familiar for being our own.
Filmed over the course of 12 years, Boyhood literally shows the growth and development of Mason (the character) and Ellar (the actor) as he learns about life alongside his father (Ethan Hawke), his mother (Patricia Arquette), and his sister (Lorelei Linklater). Captured through key moments in their growth and development, Boyhood assembles a portrait of humanity through these moments and provides a journey for the audience that feels achingly personal. Linklater is not so much seeking to reveal childhood to an audience as he is, perhaps, allowing them to re-experience childhood. But this is not mere nostalgia. We become connected to Mason in a real and present way, by watching he and his family weather periods of contentment and adversity. Linklater doesn’t just show us where we’ve been; he makes it all happen again.
Boyhood affords opportunities for unique connection. I imagine certain details will resonate stronger for some than others, varying from person to person. Even as the specifics of Mason’s life seem particular and unique to him, their universality achieves intense and significant relevance. It is a film of joy, pain, and melancholy that inspires introspection. It has no thesis, no grand overarching theme, and no existential answers and offers, instead, a profound opportunity for empathy and insight.
Boyhood ‘s soundtrack—supervised by Meghan Currier—provides Linklater an essential tool to “date” and correspond the events of Mason’s life to the specific stages of his life. As he grows and changes, so does the soundtrack (and, thereby, the culture). New toys and gadgets are introduced throughout Mason’s growth suggesting how an individual develops alongside and through popular culture and adds a note of convincing verisimilitude. We believe Mason’s growth more readily because it is reflected and expressed by extension in the world around him.
Linklater has long been a pioneer when it comes to youthful narratives in cinema; but, Boyhood feels different and more satisfying for being grander in concept. The snapshots of life so lovingly captured in films like Slacker , Dazed and Confused and The Before Trilogy—though pointedly insightful—are expanded into complex portraits of unfolding identities, not only Mason’s but his entire family.
The film delivers a powerful ending, startling in its simplicity. Having watched Mason become himself, he is revealed on screen as a young man ready for the great adventure of adult life, which induces a peculiar, if poignant, epiphany: we have become Mason’s parents. We have watched him take the journey of Boyhood , much like our own parents have watched us. We have seen the good and the bad in his formative life experience. Then, finally, he leaves us. The credits roll. A realization dawns on us that not only are we each Mason, but we have each raised him as well. Boyhood ‘s investigation of youth becomes a celebration of becoming.
Alexandros is currently a student at Academy of Art University studying Directing and Writing. He is an avid consumer of all kinds of cinema though he has a strong affinity for film noir and westerns.
BOYHOOD: The Awkwardness of Youth
by Terrence Arjoon
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood wears its heart on its sleeve, and is pure distilled Linklater. As a Linklater fan, I went into the film with high hopes. It shares the same concept of following one group of people over several years as his “Before” series, which are some of my favorite films. I was afraid that this concept would make the film a novelty, and overshadow other aspects of the film such as story and cinematography. I am glad to say this is not the case.
Linklater films with gorgeous long cuts and sweeping pans, and—as expected—has a solid soundtrack. He seamlessly cuts between the years of his main character Mason’s life, which was confusing at first because I often did not know how old Mason was. In retrospect, however, I recognize this as genius because it effectively conveys how swiftly childhood goes by, and how our memories blend the years together.
Ethan Hawke gives an amazing performance as Mason’s father. He is charming and caring, and I kept hoping throughout the film that he would get back together with Patricia Arquette (Mason’s mother), but Linklater knows that life doesn’t work that way.
My biggest gripe with the film would have to be with Ellar Coltrane, who plays Mason. He’s just not very interesting to me. Sure, he is a little “edgy” in that he wears an earring and ripped jeans, but so what? He doesn’t express much, beyond his interest in photography and his girlfriend. He just wasn’t very relatable. I can only assume that Linklater was aiming for universality with his characters, but I found Mason highly unrelatable. He doesn’t seem like much fun to be around. Coltrane’s delivery is painfully slow, and by the end of the film I wondered if his character was meant to have some sort of mental disability. The entire audience laughed as Coltrane delivered the painfully slow, obvious and awkward last line of the film, which I won’t spoil for readers. (It’s some hokey inspirational line about living in the moment.)
If there’s one thing that Coltrane does well, it’s capturing the uncertainty and awkwardness of youth. While neither of my parents are alcoholics, I know what it’s like to walk in on the aftermath of an argument. I know the pressure to seem cool around the older and seemingly wiser high school students. It was painful to watch Mason react immaturely to his breakup. We’ve all been there, and I found myself actively hoping to spare Mason the embarrassment of his immaturity.
The film captures all the highlights of youth, but wisely leaves many things out. We don’t get to see Mason’s first kiss or his learning how to ride a bike. Boyhood is a remembered snapshot of a life, and sometimes attains its goal of activating the viewers’ memories of their childhood. For me, it is a near perfect film. We get to watch Mason / Ellar Coltrane grow up, and look back on our own youth with wonder and nostalgia.
Terrence Arjoon is a rising sophomore at Bard College planning to major in Literature. He lives in Queens, NYC. He is passionate about education, and spent the summer interning at 826 Valencia.