Boyhood is a revolutionary film having been shot intermittently over 12 years depicting the adolescence of a boy growing up in America from the years 2002 to 2014. Directed by Richard Linklater, the film stars newcomer Ellar Coltrane as our protagonist, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater the director’s daughter…nepotism eh? (I kid, she was very good).
I’m going to start off by saying that I really enjoyed watching this film, this was probably partly to do with me being a nineteen year old, and so i found the film very relatable having just experienced adolescence (arguably still going through it). For me there was definitely an element of nostalgia watching the film, being a similar age to the actor, watching him in his younger years really did make me question where the years went by (what a cliche, but it’s true!). Never before has a movie been filmed over such a lengthy period and rather than using different actors to portray the character at separate stages of his life, we actually get to see Ellar Coltrane age before our eyes as the film progresses. I think this was a judicious decision from the director to keep the same actor as it allowed the viewer to connect so much more with the character, you almost feel like you lived through his adolescence with him.
Another wonderful aspect of the film is that there’s so much character development, and not just with the main character but with the people surrounding him, notably his parents. Our preconceptions of the father border on ominous, he has a number of characteristics that lead us to infer these presumptions – being a young, unemployed and often absent father. Yet it’s so enlightening to see how dedicated he is to being a part of his children’s lives in spite of the limitations he has in seeing them. Intent on being a dependable father figure in his children’s lives, he was always solicitous about the welfare of their lives and deterred from having a ‘small talk’ relationship with them. The mother who started as a single parent raising two young children, obviously faces many struggles and impediments going through a number of failed relationships, including a marriage with an alcoholic and abusive man. Yet she’s able to overcome these tribulations and make something of her life, becoming a respected professor and inspiring others along the way to strive for success.
Some criticism has been leveled at the film which stems from the fact that in truth, it doesn’t really have a plot. The film is more a string of events in the boy’s life, some more portentous than others, but each has an important part in the role they play to his development from a boy to a young man. The film certainly has a message which the mother reiterates in being that life is simply a set of milestones – going to university, getting a degree, meeting a partner, getting married, having children etc all the way until you reach the last milestone, which again the mother alludes to, death. This was actually quite a sobering thought, thinking too deeply about it can bring about an existential crisis. It sort of makes you feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Are we ultimately all the same, with no aspiring ambitions or goals, just going through life ticking off the milestones we’ve reached as they come until we’re eventually grasped by death. Moving on from such morbid thoughts, part of the reason why the film was so effective and didn’t necessarily need a plot was that it felt very real, to the point at times you forget you’re watching a film because what you’re seeing are things we’ve all experienced. It almost felt like a documentary at times of someone’s actual life, which really is testimony to what a fantastic job the actors did.
The film is a wonderful example of how you don’t need inflated drama and explosions in a movie to quench a viewer’s appetite (I’m looking at you Michael Bay). This film encapsulates so much of what we associate with growing up and maturing, and so it makes for quite a roller coaster ride of emotions, just like a film of this composition should do. Having felt like you lived through a movie with the characters is no easy feat, and so for having done so, i take my proverbial hat off to you Richard Linklater.