Sunday, July 27, 2014

'Boyhood' (2014) directed by Richard Linklater

Summarising Boyhood is a fool's errand.  How can you fit a film like this into a couple of paragraphs? Individual superlatives spring to mind; wonderful, touching, amazing, beautiful and so on, but even they fail to quite convey the gobsmacking majesty of the movie.  No film quite like Boyhood has ever come to cinemas before.  No film quite like Boyhood will again.  

Boiled down, Boyhood is a gimmick movie, but goddamn what a gimmick.  In 2002 Linklater began shooting a film starring six-year old Ellar Coltrane.  Twelve years later he wrapped.  The innocent six-year old has been replaced by an independent 18 year old man. This film is about what happens along the way to this journey.  Perplexingly, there's not even much of a narrative; the film functioning as a window into a normal life free from dramatic pretense and 'big problems', confident that merely exploring geological shifts in relationships will keep us engaged.

Coltrane plays Mason Jr, living a humdrum life in suburban Texas with his mother (Patricia Arquette) and older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater).  His often-absent father (Ethan Hawke) rolls up in a cool-as-hell muscle car every couple of weekends on visitation rights.  As the years swim by we're introduced to a cavalcade of friends, family, houses and haircuts, and just as we get used to them it's all change - onto the next phase.  

Linklater's directorial ability to make the mundane so gripping is straight-up superhuman. He's working some crazy alchemy here; no flashy camera work, no supercool dialogue and no show-offy grandstanding performances.  So what exactly keeps us interested?  Linklater has excavated an aspect of humanity in cinema that we rarely to get to experience; kindling real love in us as we watch Mason grow.

As Linklater cuts between the years we feel mild disorientation; just as we've become accustomed to Mason at one age we have to deal with his changes.  It's with surprise that we realise his voice has broken between scenes, he's experienced a sudden growth spurt, developed an interest in girls or grown a cool new haircut.  This progression puts us in the same shoes as Mason's father, stopping off every so often and having to deal with what's taken place in our absence.

Very quickly we get attached to Mason.  He's a likeable enough boy at every stage of his development whether he's disappointed to realise that there's no such things as elves in the world, going on a classically Linklaterian ramble about conspiracies or ingesting psychedelics with friends.  I began to feel like a ghost or guardian angel, a disembodied presence in his life silently observing and wishing the best for him - I've rarely felt so protective towards a character in a movie before.  This sensation is so strong because deep down in our bones we know that we're really watching this person grow up. 

Importantly, we're not just watching Mason grow up, we're not just watching his family wrinkle up - we're silently watching ourselves grow up too.  Boyhood is a record of what the early years of the 21st century;  characters smoking indoors, fiddling around with iMacs and playing splitscreen Halo 2.  Linklater has an uncanny knack for capturing precise elements of particular moments in time; the fact that the scenes are filmed in those years means, by definition, they're entirely free of anachronisms.

There's a marvellous scene where a young, excited Mason attends a midnight book shop opening for the release of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.  Your first instinct is to marvel at how beautifully Linklater has recreated it - then you realise that he probably filmed it at a real midnight Harry Potter opening.  You get similar feelings watching technology gradually developing around our character; the progression from dumbphones to the ubiquity of iPhones; the rise of social networking and pop progressing from the Britney to the Gaga era.

This steady march through time underlines how quickly the world changes and how invisible these changes seem while you're living them.  Most of all it makes you feel old; a miasma of melancholy enveloping you as watch a 6 year Mason playing a GameBoy Advance SP and realising - holy shit - I was just starting university when that came out! Realisations like this reveal that it's time itself that's the real villain of Boyhood, a cruel master whipping us onwards - never allowing us to stand still, even for a moment.

Time chisels away at our characters like waves beating against a cliff.  We watch Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette softly slide into middle-age; their features softening as they wrinkle and grey.  We see people degenerate into alcoholism and bitterness.  Divisions growing between couples like weeds through paving stones.  Towards the end of the film there's a quiet, touching moment where its bemoaned that time passes too fast: the clichéd parental moan "they grow up so fast". By this point Linklater has more than earned a dab of cliché, and it's deeply, sincerely felt by both characters and audience.

This is an incredibly important, enormously ambitious film and it is obviously - obviously - going to go down in cinematic history as a stone cold classic.  There's a thousand beautiful observations within it; ranging from that we use gifts to mould people into what we want them to be, to appreciating the love in your life while you have it and so on - a fractal, infinite glimpse into humanity: life itself, captured on film.

Boyhood has got to be Linklater's magnum opus and with it he's undeniably entered the highest panethon of directors. If you have the slightest interest in cinema as a medium you need to see it.  If you have the slightest interest in people you need to see it.


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

0 Responses to “'Boyhood' (2014) directed by Richard Linklater”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights