By Abigail Yue Wang
Linklater’s latest film Boyhood questions what it means to grow up.
Whether you remember Richard Linklater as the man who rotoscoped existential conversations into animation (Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly), or the one who poked at the moral ambiguity of a murder by a pious priest (Bernie), or simply a man who made famous Matthew McConaughey’s “Alright alright alright” (Dazed and Confused), you should know by now, that this Hollywood one-of-a-kind is going to catch us off guard again whichever subject he picks next. Shortly after last year’s praised return of the voluble couple in Before Midnight, Linklater’s latest effort Boyhood is soon to arrive in Britain after a well-deserved Silver Bear for Best Director at Berlinale.
Boyhood is an anthology of a boy called Mason Jr. going into maturity, intermittently shot over twelve years, and it chronicles life events that rings a bell to everyone’s adolescence – divorce, house moving, peer pressure, hidden beer and virginity. Steadily filmed a few days every year, it pieces together every encounter, mistake and hindsight that eventually sculpt a six-year-old into a young adult. An inadvertent performance by Ellar Coltrane as Mason Jr. reminds us just how subtly life can be shaped by the smallest matters. And that’s all there is – small matters. There’s nothing out of the ordinary, yet every mentioning of the details feel like a giveaway. Linklater, as always, picks up nuances in the mundane, making the effortless moments ever so recognizable and truthful. For the young actor, growth in a motion picture is perhaps the most eidetic memo of all, where we witness Mason Jr. once as a languid teen, a nihilist at times, who grows up to be an articulate creative. What was thought of as improbable troubles of life could in hindsight, be treated with some levity and gratitude.
Here is a director who doesn’t take the transcendence of time as a given in this abridged media. For Linklater, time is an elastic craft; it could span 18 years for a couple to gallivant from the streets of Vienna to Paris and the Peloponnese in the Before trilogy (1995-2013), or 86 minutes for a real-time conversation in a claustrophobic motel room in Tape (2001). But watching twelve years brushing through so swiftly in three hours is more of a metaphor about time itself; its brevity sneaks up on us and before we realize it, credit roll is already halfway. It leaves you pensive and urged with the kind of strange attachment you get when you spend just enough hours with a character. You wish to not only see Mason Jr. off to college, but a long way after, because he bears a piece of youth that we once had in all of us.
It is nonetheless resonant to see all the adults leaving traces of age throughout the film as portrayed by Patricia Arquette, who plays the ardent mother, and father Ethan Hawke, who has weathered the timeline of Linklater’s career for twenty years. According to the director: “It is about a child going through boyhood as much as us adults stumbling through parenthood”. It knits footages of each year seamlessly without abrupt reminders. Footnotes of the Iraqi War, the Obama/McCain campaign and Harry Potter make unobtrusive marks over the years. Music also becomes a small commentary on everyone’s trace, in which a visceral resonance seethes through the soundtrack, from Coldplay’s Yellow to Vampire Weekend twelve years on.
Boyhood, in UK cinemas from 11 July.
Film stills courtesy of IFC Films