Boyhood is a peculiar work in the Texas director’s career, and not because of the conceiving – twelve years for the shooting, two years both for pre-production and post-production –, but mostly for its maturity. The style of the 165 minutes-long movie is actually the mise-en-scène of life, of becoming an adult and of the passage of a time which sets, at the same time, the filming act and the diegetic universe.
Boyhood, set in Texas, tells the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) through the fluctuation of years, from their parents’ divorce, Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), to the meeting with their mother’s new lovers; relationships which involve moves, new schools and new friends. Each moment of the movie marks a passage of the actors’ individual growth, and the “boyhood” in the title is the hub where the abilities and anxieties of everybody ‒ parents, acquaintances or new lovers ‒ turn around.
Despite the fact that the movie is composed by several moments, it seems difficult, or even impossible, to underline some of them in particular; Linklater decides to focus on “everything”, favoring the feeling of taking part in the emotional and honest memory that Mason gets of the path which brought him to be a young adult. The director decides not to mark the passages among the years and the episodes; there is no recourse to voices-over, captions and dates. The music and the actors’ physicalness are the terms of comparison to understand the passage of years.
It is actually this choice – a continuous losing and finding oneself thanks to profound and meaningful narrative ellipsis – that allows the user of the film work to pass from the state of audience to that of witness. But witness of what? Of his growth and the consequent articulation and psychological examination? Of the adhesion to an adult model represented by the parents? Linklater himself underlines this last possibility, stating that as a boy “everyone was telling me to do this or that. But did I really want to become as they were? Definitely not, so I did quite the opposite of what I was told to do” (Sight & Sound, August 2014).
Each of us was a child and so had heroes to follow, but unfortunately, following these models, someone lost his way, becoming at fault his own anti-hero, or in opposition his own negative hero. The adult models Mason is related with are his father, the university teacher Bill and the former soldier Jim, Olivia’s failed lovers in her search for a family stability. If Mason Sr. is out at work, Bill and Jim are too tough towards themselves and the others, and they both conceal weaknesses abusing alcohol.
Mason just does not want to be a hero, as the Family of the year sing in their Hero, one of the most significant tracks of the movie: “Let me go, I don't want to be your hero, I don't wanna be a big man, I just wanna fight with everyone else, Your masquerade, I don't wanna be a part of your parade...”. Banally, he wants to be what he is able to wish, a slacker or a common citizen conforming to the rules.
Going ahead, we must come back to the element “time” and go along towards the amazing liaison which Boyhood establishes with true and real life. In Boyhood, Linklater, shooting in 35 mm – an element which maximizes the deictic features of cinema – is able to fix indelibly the passage of time and to make it perceptible and corporeal: it is not anymore a tool or an expedient, but the protagonist of the mise-en-scène. Linklater does not “sculpts in time”, borrowing the title of a famous Tarkovskij’s book: on the contrary, it is the light which imprints the film, it is the true life.
Besides, it is not the first time that the Austin-born director plays with the time matter, alternatively changing or keeping it; he actually realized works which are set in a single day or night (Slacker, Dazed and Confused, SubUrbia), some others shot in real time (Tape), and the Before trilogy, which is linked to both methods previously described. This is what make Linklater’s cinema interesting and never predictable.
Here the shooting act seems more important than the final outcome, that is excellent anyway. Life goes on as fast as cinema, changing and shaping it. Its activity is unceasing and fruitful. Linklater, although tempted by the meticulous organization of the narrative structure, surrendered to the growth of the project, diverging from the original path in order to enrich it. The director, the crew and the actors met for a three/four days’ shooting every year for twelve years, giving themselves a lot of time for the the editing and the development of ideas. So it happened, for example, that the passion for photography developed by the young Coltrane was then put into his character.
To conclude, Boyhood is a wonderful work, born from the explosive power that life impresses on the act of “thinking with images”, highlighting the fracture which is created between the découpage and the final editing of the movie. Boyhood does not start or end before our eyes, and this “happening” fascinates deeply.
Written by Emanuel Carlo Micali
Translation from italian by Fabio Tasso
Reference section: English/Français
Articolo in versione italiana: Boyhood - Passeggiando con la vita