Review: Boyhood (2014)

Ellar Coltrane and Ethan Hawke in Boyhood

Time has always been a pillar for the cinema, whether looking at how a film simply shows a compressed amount of time from a particular point of view or more pointed experimentations with the concept showcased with pictures such as Rashomon, Memento and the commendably ambitious The Tree of Life.

Time is also a distinctive characteristic of Richard Linklater`s cinematic work, whether looking at it through a sharp focus and prism of a period of history “Me and Orson Welles,” short time of significance with coming of age comedy “Dazed and Confused.” And finally the Before Trilogy, which fantastically blended real-time intimacy and naturalism with large scale implications of the time that the characters had been away from the audience and with one another, making for an engaging and emotional experience.

Boyhood has different aspirations entirely, seeming to exist between the traditional narrative framework and the “Experience” cinema that has characterised much of Kubrick, Malick and Herzog`s work, with its ambitious depiction of showing a boy growing up from age 7-18. Ultimately, with these terms established, there are two ways to view Boyhood.

The first is an almost meditative experience, allowing the audience to reflect on their very own growth and development, not only from traditional aspects of life depicted but also the events and small pieces of dialogues that suggest the passage of time. The best example of this was when the film has a few scenes dedicated to the 2008 American Election.

A notable moment with this brief point was an amusing scene when Mason Jr and his sister Samantha are handing out Obama election leaflets, and one woman they encounter is so awestruck by the president in what she says. It was a great case of personal reflection and dramatic irony melded with history; that resulted in a wonderful microcosm of this form of engagement with the picture.

The second way to view Boyhood is as a narrative piece that in its thematic resonance is about growing up, not only from the point of view of seeing Mason Jr doing so, but also his parents, Oliva (Patricia Arquette) and Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke) Their respective trials and tribulations are equally as fascinating, and the fact they don’t share much screen time make their parenting styles much more explicit to the audience.

Linklater never shows us why Oliva and Mason Sr split up in the first place, but the screenplay which he solely penned gives the audience clues into why, and the audience are left to put these together almost like a detective. Additionally, Oliva`s occupation as a Psychology teacher does not feel unintentional as it feels like Linklater is almost challenging us throughout the picture to guess the traits and characteristics of Mason Jr based on our observations of his behaviour and upbringing that are occurring before our eyes.

William Friedkin in his commentary for “The Exorcist” said he did not want to name any of the places that the characters were in the film because he wanted to give the audience credit in figuring them out. Linklater with Boyhood works in this mold, seemingly not breaking up the passages of time or growth with subtitles or indicators. It makes for a rich cinematic experience that expounds throughout its near three running length, the importance and ever constant nature of time.

About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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