The antithesis to any other coming of age film I have seen – gently depicting progress rather than the popular hollywood POW. The life altering moment, during which the boy suddenly becomes a man, is absent, and this remarkable work is all the better for it. Director – Richard Linklater’s modesty and reluctance to hyperbolise or over emphasise has enabled him to create a film which is artful, charming and a genuine pleasure to watch.
Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is a daydreamer, a realist and a cynic. He is a person whose character is not easily categorised – he is complex and continuously changing. We watch him slowly evolve over thirteen years, never ceasing to be confused or uncertain. In portraying such a protagonist, Linklater conveys the intricacies of life while resisting the temptation to offer even a glimmer of the artificiality so prevalent within film today. There is no culmination, no sudden breakthrough or defining moment. But rather, a gradual transition – an ever changing state of being. And as the child grows, changes, moves, the film moves with him – each character ageing, drifting, living. Not necessarily advancing or improving, just moving through life.
There are small wonders and small disasters – nothing is overstated or overworked. A degree of fatalism is perhaps insinuated, as Mason is subject to a string of drunken stepfathers, house moves and people wandering in and out of his life. But no more than a hint. He makes choices. Not those which are huge, life changing, or earth shattering. But small, everyday decisions – which may, or may not have a butterfly effect – whether to drink a beer, whether to obey rules or rebel, which college to choose. Each which softly ushers him forward, rather than overtly propelling him into any kind of abyss.
The films complexity lies within its simplicity. In truth, childhood is an abstract thing. Not linear, but progressive. Societally implemented, supposedly definitive stages – birthdays, graduations, the first beer, the first sex – which, popular film would have us believe, once met are meant to propel a person to the next significant phase, do not suddenly make a boy a man. Life is a continual series of events – of relevant and irrelevant moments, which seep into one another. Each character – from the small boy staring up at the sky at the films open, to his father – who in the latter half, we see descend into the very being he spent the former half of the film rallying against – is in his or her own state of respective boyhood – still learning, still growing, still falling. The often poor adult decision making within the film, lacks clarity, cohesion and sense just as choices do within childhood. We see, not just the boy age and grow, but his parents, his friends. Many of whom are present in one part and absent the next. Because, as in reality, people wander in and out of one another’s lives without having profound effect or significant meaning. When they are here, they are here, and when they are gone, they are gone. – And it is the protagonist’s prerogative to develop and to take or leave, from each situation and from each person, what he chooses.
I am thankful that there is no real resolution. The film ends as it begins – with a young man staring into the sky – inhabiting the moment in which he exists, not searching for a deeper understanding than that. And, as is surmised at the films finale – we don’t seize the moment, not really. The moment seizes us, and then it is gone. But another always follows. Seeing that, even in the most defining, climactic instant, we still wait for the next. This film succeeds in its portrayal that there is the past, and there is the future, but the the only thing of which we can be certain, which is truly real, is the now.
I urge you to watch this film, if not for its thought provoking and profound simplicity, then for its artistry and sheer charm. Thirteen years have been well spent in the creation of Boyhood. It is a truly wonderful watch.