Even though it takes place over one summer, there are many similarities one could identify between Ray Bradbury’s masterpiece “Dandelion Wine,” and Richard Linklater’s masterpiece, “Boyhood,” the fleeting notions of captivating moments, the discoveries of new and unexpected things, both pleasant and unpleasant. And, maybe most importantly, that moment when you look back and realized how much you have changed. Linklater’s film is about a boy, Mason, but it could be about his sister, his mother, and his father. Because if there is one tantamount theme that runs through this flowing and free narrative, that binds these characters, is how they change, whether they know it or not. For the most part, we are a product of our environment, and Mason morphs and reflects what his environment provides him with. And we see this transformation at the speed of life, and it is this naturalistic fluidity that provides both a contemplation of growth as well as a testament to the continuous and often nostalgic presence of time, or the flow of time. Much has been said about it’s twelve year production so I will be brief: it’s nothing short of a cinematic milestone.
There is no way around it; the film is just about a boy’s life. The plot could be described as a boy growing up for twelve years. Any sort of super-objective for Mason is to find his purpose in life. This search provides us with a character trajectory that, no matter where you are from, you can find something to connect with. I must be frank, this film hits close to home for most of the time. There were portions of the script that echo what I have heard in my life and in some cynical fashion I sensed a futility of such thoughts, thoughts that distort a child’s reality at a young age that will only confuse them when they are old enough to think for themselves. Lee Daniel and Shane F. Kelly use the camera as merely an observational tool. Very rarely does the camera orchestrate a scene or intensely search a character for some elusive meaning. It’s just there like life just is.
You cannot pull off such a feat without an ensemble cast that fits well with the naturalistic tone. Ellar Coltrane as Mason is a triumph. The whole idea of his character is to act like you or me, which is to under-act but not to the point of purposeful subtlety. The way he grows and becomes more thoughtful and more soft-spoken is brilliant. Richard Linklater’s own daughter, Lorelei, plays Mason’s sister, Samantha, with the same sort of genuine approach. When she utters the brief congratulations for Mason’s high school graduation, only saying, “Good luck,” she says it with a full understanding of a self-conscious teenager trying with all her might avoiding any sentimental feelings. The parents, played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawk, are extraordinary representations of complexity and human elegance. It is suffice to say that one of the more prominent themes that hovers over the narrative of Mason’s growth is the fragility of the parents. As mentioned before, they must construct a facade of a reality for their children for most of their young life only for their children to somehow break out on their own and find their own path. At the same time, their expectations as these ideal role models are always in question and both parents feel the weight of such an ironic position. Despite such fragility, Arquette and Hawke hold this warmth and determination that is inspiring, if not melancholy. This is an ensemble that is beautiful to ponder because of the gargantuan commitment it took to inject the vitality of such a project.
It is worth mentioning the near seamless editing in which the passage of time is always felt but never noticeable, like a spectre of a haunted past. Watching the main players grow before us is a humbling experience and we can only project our own growth as a means to comprehend what the film portrays. The editing, like the cinematography, retains a somewhat invisible function.
I said I would briefly talk about the twelve year production but I lied. It entices wonder from me; it took twelve years to make and the film is a little less than three hours long. At one point during the film Patricia Arquette’s mother breaks down right before Mason goes off to college. She laments how quickly her time with her children was and says, “I just thought there will be more.” Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” could be an unbelievable testimony to the illusory process of cinema that can take reality and truncate it to the artist’s will. The process of truncation through editing is a direct correlation to the fleeting nature of life and the inevitable sadness of the mother who worked so hard to provide for her children. It is a bold and monumental statement but it is illustrated in the most naturally unimposing manner possible.
But what doubly makes this film special is the smaller moments, the casual references to moments in time, the minute gestures of kindness and thoughtfulness from the characters. There is Dragon Ball Z, a Britney Spears rendition, Roger Clemens pitching for the Houston Astros, and a compilation CD called The Black Album. None of these are plot devices but brush strokes on the vast canvas of our lives; the small things we happen to remember for some reason. Richard Linklater, with this helluva film, has become one of the most important American directors of the past decade and one of the most ambitiously inspiring storytellers in cinema.