Saturday, September 06, 2014

Boyhood: From Baby Fat to Goatee in Just Moments

"Boyhood" collage from
"Which 'Mason' was your favorite?" asked my friend Suzanne after we'd seen Richard Linklater's Boyhood.  Because Linklater filmed for a few days each year between 2002 and 2014, we had just watched the young actor Ellar Coltrane grow in the role of the boy "Mason" from baby fat to goatee, developing sharper edges and shading like the photo that Mason develops in a darkroom.

I can choose no "favorite," anymore than a parent can, for Linklater has given us something of the parent's experience.  We feel delight at each new Mason, but we're as eager as he is to see him grow into independence.  I laughed a lot, and I teared up, too, always when our young hero gets a break, or discovers something about himself.  He gets his father to see that there's some give and take in their relationship.  He doesn't flinch when bullies try to intimidate him.  He just watches when a smaller boy has the courage to resist pressure from friends, but he later stands up to a much bigger man.  He's forthright with a girl. I'm pleased to report that teachers come across as understanding and helpful (if a little gruff one time) all the way through.

Boyhood's not all about Mason.  His older sister Sam (Lorelei Linklater) takes advantage of her brother in myriad humiliating ways, but at the core of their relationship is a moment early in the movie, when the two take turns with binoculars to watch their estranged parents from an upstairs window for signs of reconciliation.

The parents grow up, too:

When the movie begins, the father (Ethan Hawk) has been off in Alaska, the mother (Patricia Arquette) has already started to make a series of "poor life decisions" that will subject the children to wrenching relocations and to her relationships with men that the mature Mason will call "a parade of drunken a------s."  She does her best when things go wrong, and she does good, too:   A minor character reappears to thank her for her impact on his life, while the kids look on.

Some weekends the father sweeps the kids up in his old GTO for bowling, baseball, and camping, trying hard to involve himself in their lives.  To his credit, he listens when Mason asks from the backseat, "Why don't you answer our questions?  How was your week?  Do you have a girl friend?"  He's inspired when young Mason (a Harry Potter fan) asks him if there really isn't any magic in the world.  The father rises to this occasion, doing everything he can to keep "magic" alive for Mason:  he wonders what's more magical than a whale, an ocean mammal that sings and has a heart big enough to contain a bus?

In the end, we have three scenes, back-to-back, considering what it all means - where "it" is the span of 12 years, as close to "life" as a movie can get.  In one, the father, in secular terms, blesses his son.  In a second scene, the mother cries because the "big moments" of her life are going by too fast.  Teaching her son to ride a bike, moving and marrying , sending him off to college -- too fast, it's here and gone.  That's our experience, too, watching the whole boyhood go by under three hours.

It's fitting that the young man finds himself in photography, the art of capturing moments.  While most movies are "about" their stories, this one gives us the experience of time itself.

The third concluding scene brings us to a picture-perfect moment at the end of Mason's first day at college. One of Mason's new friends wonders if, instead of seizing the moment, we should let the moment seize us.

Honor the moments and move on:  for a film about watching years go by too fast, for a story about growth, and for life, it's a good perspective.
Reflection on the movie Boyhood,written and directed by Richard Linklater.  Starring Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, and Ethan Hawk.