by: Jay Carlson
Warning: spoilers below:
Richard Linklater has crafted a masterpiece with his newest film ‘Boyhood’. He reached inside me and touched a piece of my heart in ways I didn’t realize were possible with a film.
Everyone knows the story by now, Linklater recruited young Ellar Coltrane, and filmed him a little bit every year from the age of six to eighteen. And. Nobody. Knew. That in and of itself is unbelievable in this day and age where nothing is secret longer than the amount of time that it takes to pull a cell phone out of your pocket. It’s unimaginable to pull something like this off for a year or two, but he did it for over a decade.
Also take a second to consider that in those twelve years Linklater made and released ‘School of Rock’, ‘Before Sunset’, ‘Bad News Bears’, ‘Fast Food Nation’, ‘A Scanner Darkly’, ‘Me and Orson Wells’, ‘Bernie’ and ‘Before Midnight’. Keeping that prolific pace alone is more than most of his peers could accomplish. But add the filming of Boyhood into that, and it’s simply amazing.
With ‘Boyhood’ Linklater has pulled off an amazing balancing act, the sheer concentration to pull off an idea as ambitious on a technical level is simply unrivaled. Seriously, this is a drop the mic film, one to tell his peers “Top this.” I’m not sure if that’s even possible. Especially if he continues filming Ellar Coltrane’s, Mason, into Manhood.
So now that I’ve gushed at the very idea of making a film like this, what about the actual execution of this audacious idea?
My one complaint about ‘Boyhood’ is also perhaps its greatest strength. Over the years of making a film about a child’s boyhood he doesn’t give you the big moments. There’s no finding out Santa Claus isn’t real, there’s no first kiss, there’s no learning to drive a car, there’s no losing his virginity. These are all things you’d expect to see in a film about a young man growing up and becoming a man. For him to forego those moments is a bold choice and a smart one. In not showing those moments Linklater has perhaps made a stronger film, he realizes that life happens between the photographs. He trusts his audience to take the ride and jump through the years with Mason and his family and keep up. Thanks to the assured writing, directing and editing it’s effortless. The film was long and I only wish it was longer. I became invested in this family and wanted more time with them.
The acting was top notch. Thanks to seeing him grow up in this film, it feels like we’ve had Ellar Coltrane for years. He is the anchor of this film, if Linklater had not chosen wisely this film could have been the biggest misfire in the history of cinema. Luckily, from Coltrane’s first scene it became obvious Linklater had indeed chosen wisely. Seeing Coltrane age from 6-18 stirred up emotions in the best way. My own son turned 14 recently, I’d experienced this ride first-hand but it was amazing to see it all happen so quickly. Linklater and Coltrane managed to capture the essence of each and every year in the most believable way.
Then there was the rest of our core cast. Ethan Hawke is obviously a vampire. The only difference between 2002 Hawke and 2014 Hawke was a mustache and his hair. It felt like his arc through the film ran parallel to his son, Mason’s. At the beginning of the film we meet hawk as an absentee father, a guy half assing how much he is in his kids lives. By the end he’s put away his rockstar dreams and settled down, re-married and become a father again. In a way we see him also grow from boyhood into manhood.
Perhaps the most frustrating character was Patricia Arquette as the mother to Mason. Seeing her make bad decision after bad decision was tough. What makes it frustrating is the fact that she’s always trying to do the right thing for her kids. In the process she marries twice. The first husband, one of her college professors and the second one of her own college students that she’s teaching. Both inevitably end up not working out, keeping her and her kids moving and searching for a home of their own.
Fellow indierevolver contributor, Lizzy Ferro noted that she was sad to see Ethan Hawke seem to straighten out, while Arquette was alone. I pointed out that they each had finally straightened out. Sure, Hawke had finally seem to embrace adulthood become a man. And yes, Arquette was by herself but for once she wasn’t jumping into a new relationship to feel complete, she was standing on her own. While we don’t have the nice neat resolution like we seemed to have for Hawke’s story, I still find it hopeful that she was on her own.
Finally, was Linklater’s own daughter, Lorelei, playing Mason’s sister Samantha who we also see age before our eyes. While her role wasn’t as large as Coltrane’s, The young Linklater’s was in many way equally important. Imagine if the elder Linklater was filming scenes focusing on Samantha’s story in order to release a companion film focusing on her that would have fit together with ‘Boyhood’. I wouldn’t have put it past Linklater to think of something like that.
Ultimately, Richard Linklater has created an amazing piece of art that works as well in execution as well as it does in concept. I can only hope that we are treated to Mason’s trip into adulthood in the same way that he has returned to Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in the ‘Before’ series. Mason still has a lot of life to live. I hope we’re given the same view that we’ve been given in ‘Boyhood’. Hopefully we’ll meet back here in 2026.