There is a scene in Boyhood when Olivia (Patricia Arquette) suddenly cries out “my life is just gonna go like that… this series of milestones…” We all would want to agree with her. After all what’s a 60 years or more or less of it in this eternal cosmos. And yet what director Richard Linklater (of Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight series and Waking Life) says is far beyond those lines.
Boyhood is predominantly the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows from a dreamy six year old into an 18 year old – literally. In a life controlled, limited, conditioned and ‘what not‘ed by parents (even step ones too), Mason is as much an out of the place kid as we all have been during that age. Mason’s world is as dull or as happy it can be – cycle rides, school, friendly neighborhoods, an annoying sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), along with a yearning for a father who happens to be their mother’s divorced husband. And when Olivia moves out of home in hope of making it better for her kids, their world gets as complicated as it can get. And so begins a child’s biggest and a necessary nightmare – ‘loss of innocence’ and dealing with it.
It is sometimes tough to realize when in the film Mason and Samantha have grown older and we take cues from their changed hair styles or tooth braces or such physical clues. But it is their underlying emotions expressed subtly that tell us about their growth. Richard Linklater ponders on – how quickly these kids grow and yet they are kids, who look at the world with different viewing lenses, coming into their own sooner than later. Linklater delves into the kids innocence and growth as easily as he mixes the talk about pop culture and existentialism ala all his previous films.
It seems for all the major characters within the story life seems event less – even as the kids’ father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) continues to visit them and tries to be as much a limited father he can be within his visiting hours; and even as Olivia continues her education and also marries a second time. The second husband, for reasons never known (how can any child know) turns out to be a good but disciplinarian and an alcoholic father. So the big events in the life of these kids are those when their seemingly working arrangements, for which they might have struggled – at least emotionally, fall out as both their parents make more and more mistakes – probably teaching Mason a lesson or two about life.
The camera is set in places as if we were sitting with Mason, his glass eyes absorbing everything, and we think we have an answer as to why he seems withdrawn. In these withdrawn worlds of these characters come the moments like when – Mason Sr. tries to educate his daughter (in her mid teens) about being ‘protected’, else he gently warns her about mistakes like he and his once wife did. There is no guilt there, just a feeble feeling that life could have been different and better if it were so possible, which disguises a father’s heart-felt confession about not being a better parent. Or when Olivia asks her son if he had had a joint and he replies yes innocently, and she can only smile about it. Or that Samantha and Mason have very little to say to each other as they grow up but connect to each other as silent witnesses of being the kids of their parents. Of course it’s Linklater – he never takes sentimentality take over on what he intends to document. He paints a rare canvas that is real, living and continues to make us wonder bout what is the meaning of everything.
In a world where kids fights for growth have to be dramatized to be understood (Harry Potter), Boyhood is the exact opposite of it. (May be the director knew what he was doing and that’s why he covered the Harry Potter mania here.) In a world where teachers, media and anyone who can boss you will offer advice about making it big in life Boyhood looks at things that are generally considered small.
Linklater’s biggest achievement in the movie is to capture the growth of not just a boy but of what is generally called family – despite it not working the way it is expected to. Life seems to offer them a second chance every time and sometimes they make the best of it, sometime they don’t. It’s all acceptable here. For those who can’t – life’s events are memories. For those who can make the best of these chances – there seem to be more chances. And in a life where chances come and go by the toughest thing is – to not to give up on what doesn’t necessarily make sense but connects us all, to continue to dream of something beyond what is visible, to feel the moment take over you – like how you felt looking at the sky as a kid or when you got really high, and if possible find a partner who can share that dream and make meaning out of it.
No Linklater’s Boyhood isn’t just about Mason. It is about everyone and what makes life tick and how one retains it – despite the odds.