Thursday, March 5, 2015
Texas. The 6-year old Mason and his 8-year old sister Samantha grow up with her mother Olivia, who divorced their father who is a nice guy, but is still pursuing a career in a rock band instead of finding a real job. Olivia marries Bill, a divorced teacher, but regrets it soon when he turns out to be an autocratic tyrant who abuses her and the kids. Olivia moves out and marries her third husband, an Iraq War veteran, but he turns out to be aggressive as well. Throughout these years, Mason and Samantha grow up and never lose contact with their father. As a teenager, Mason develops a sense for photography and gets a scholarship for college. He moves out of his home and leaves.
"Boyhood" is one rare modern example of courageous inventive (thematic) approach to the film medium, not seen since Godard. In it, director Richard Linklater filmed the story over a period of 12 years in order to give an authentic feel to his protagonist, Mason, growing up from the age of 6 to 18. Just for that simple, yet genius concept, he should be congratulated. And what a risk he took. He was lucky the main protagonist, Ellar Coltrane, did not decide to quit on a whim, or that one of his actors did not die, or that the studio financing the project did not close down from bankruptcy throughout all that time. The four main actors also did a phenomenal job: each one of their performances encompasses a whole decade of effort, and it is incredible that they managed to stay in character for such a long time span. When you look at Patricia Arquette, she is 34 years old at the beginning of the film, and 46 by the end of it. The same goes for Ethan Hawke, he is 32 at the start, and 44 at the end. As Hawke put it nicely, this is a 'time-lapse of a human being', and these changes in time arrive so swiftly, so subtly, it is heart-breaking: one can even sense Hawke's voice changed and that he got grey hair. The viewers can really feel the weight of time and of growing up in the film.
Linklater envisaged the film as a 'slice-of-life' story, consisting out of small vignettes, in order to give an unobtrusive, quiet portrait of life. Several sequences do have sharpness, spark and a point. For instance, the great scene filmmed in one take of a girl on a bicycle talking to Mason about how she is "the only girl who does not like 'Twilight'". The dialogue between Olivia and the autocratic stepfather, Bill ("I have to draw a line." - "But you have so many lines, Bill. Everything is a line for you."), which mirrors the main theme of contradiction: Mason's real father was unemployed and poor, but he was always there and he would care for the kids, while Bill the stepfather was wealthy and there was always food on the table, but if you said anything against him, he would make your life into hell. Also, at least one dialogue is one of the greatest and most philosophical movie quotes of the decade ("You know how they always say seize the moment? I'm kind of thinking it's the other way around: the moment seizes us." - "I know. It's constant. It's like it is always right now.") Some less impressed critics lamented that except for the main concept, there is not much else to see in the film, complaining that Mason is just a passive character who does not react to events, that the events are ordinary and that the storyline seems too improvised, without a clear point at the end. Some of these complaints have merit, especially some strange moments of politics (clips of the Iraq War; the Obama/Biden campaign) which seem like an "intruder" to this innocent story, yet the virtues are so strong they outweigh the flaws. Truffaut tried something like this with his Antoine Doinel character ("400 Blows", "Stolen Kisses", "Bed and Board"...), but that was a film series. Mikhalkov tried something like this with "Anna: 6 to 18", when he filmmed his daughter growing up, but that was a documentary. But there has never been a director who used a long filming for a narrative in a single feature length film, and Linklater should be congratulated for it.