A boy’s life
Filmed over 12 years, Richard Linklater’s latest project offers unique view of life as a modern human
Boyhood is such a beguiling array of time-capsule moments—12 years in the life of a boy growing up in the vicinity of Houston, Texas—that anything it has to say about boyhood or America in the 21st century may slide on by more or less unnoticed.
Part of what’s intriguing, of course, is the project’s central concept: its bits-and-pieces story proceeds year by year, through scenes filmed year by year as Ellar Coltrane, the young actor who plays the central character (whose name is Mason), grows up. He’s 6 at the start and 18 at the finish.
And part of it is also that writer-director Richard Linklater’s approach to story and drama is so casual and easygoing, even though resolutely unsentimental. The movement through these fragments of time is both seamless and unhurried. There are conflicts large and small (mostly the latter), but nothing in the way of grandly dramatic conclusions.
That seems particularly important to Linklater’s full vision. The passage of time in this story is always in motion here, as is the film’s sense of “boyhood.” Linklater evokes the recent past, but his time-capsule movie has no frozen moments, and it reminds us more than once that even the most significant moments never really stand separate from the flux of all existence.
Since that may sound too much like a grand conclusion, I’ll hasten to add that the flux of Linklater’s Boyhood is remarkably rich in content. It’s full of passing reflections on marriage and family, education (institutional and otherwise), the fate of human passion in the digital/electronic world, daily life in modern-day Texas, magic, faith, football, photography and more.
Plus, the growing boy at the center of all this is not the only character of consequence in the film. Mason’s divorced parents (played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) both have a good deal of growing up to do as well, and his slightly older sister Samantha (played by Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter) also figures significantly in every stage of the story. Mason’s two stepdads and the passing parade of school friends have their striking moments as well.