Sunday, July 27, 2014


There is a moment in Richard Linklater's new film Boyhood when the film's main character, Mason — caught deep in the throes of the most awkward transitional years of high school — realizes that growing up is not necessarily the guaranteed outcome of getting older. In a pensive, philosophical conversation between Mason and his girlfriend — the kind of intelligent, emotionally engaged dialogue that has become like Linklater's filmic signature — Mason reflects on the fact that his mother, who has worked hard to be as grown up and responsible as she can be, still seems as lost and confused about the direction of her life as he is about his own.

Boyhood is unlike anything else I've ever seen in cinema, just as Linklater is unlike any other director working today. Over the course of the film we watch Mason grow from a shy, introverted six-year-old into a shy, introverted young man going off to college. But rather than using multiple actors or special effects to depict Mason and his family aging across the years, Linklater filmed the same group of actors repeatedly over the course of 12 years. As Mason's character ages, so does the actor playing him, along with his family members. The effect is that, although Boyhood is a fictional story, it illustrates the joys and pain of childhood and growing up in a way that is profoundly authentic and true-to-life.

But what does it even mean to grow up? Who the hell really knows? It seems to have a lot to do with taking responsibility for ourselves, getting with the program, and becoming successful in life — at least that's the message that the adults in Mason's world keep preaching at him. Do your homework, complete your chores, get ahead in school, find something you're good at and excel in life. But for all their good intentions and rhetoric, those very same adults keep struggling to find their own way in the world, and repeating mistake after embarrassing mistake. Mason's mother keeps marrying the wrong guys, and his father seems stuck in a perpetually rebellious childhood phase of his own.