I watch Boyhood at the Circle Cinema which is located a few blocks from where I went college just as my own boyhood was ending. The era of the film’s beginning is even near that same period of the early 2000s, when I had finished college, got married and began having children of my own
The timing of it all doesn’t hit me so much during the film, but strikes harder on the way home as I find myself at the stoplight on 15th & Delaware, two doors down from the very duplex I lived in with my my then-wife when our first child, Kennedy, was born.
A few minutes later, I work my way southeast, passing 21st & Darlington and the final roof that my family of five lived under together, the very house where my marriage came to an end.
Thematically, it’s about here that Boyhood begins. When we first meet the sky-watching Mason Jr. his parents are already divorced. As if the film needed to be more relatable, Mason and his older sister are almost exactly the same ages as Scout and Beckett were when our own family was split. Not exact. But certainly close enough to make it that much harder to keep my own emotions at bay while watching this movie.
Though I’m not sure why I try. It’s impossible to watch Boyhood without thinking of your own childhood, parenthood or family, even if your situation was drastically different from Mason’s. Linklater weaves together scenes that manage to be both commonplace and uniquely defining, treating each with equal importance.
Houses, schools, people all come and go, some of them having more influence than others and it’s not dependent on the amount of time spent with each. Sometimes a single conversation or one person makes a lifelong impact. What is true in life is true in this film.
However, while length may not be important in relationships, time spent making this movie and the time spent watching it are paramount to the magic and impact.
Boyhood is obviously not the first film to span over a decade of a character’s life. It’s not even the first time cameras have captured kids aging over a long period. Apted’s Up series comes to mind, but that takes several films to do what Boyhood manages to accomplish in one. Nor do they pack the same emotional punch.
More than just a hook or a clever device, this time span is central to the story. Life, itself, is about adapting and growing and moving forward. It’s not about finding yourself, but about adding to yourself, changing our composition over a series of nows.
Pages and pages could be written about the role of music and technology in the film. There’s a great philosophical rant from Mason Jr. about how we are becoming part robot, a point that’s revisited in almost every time period as we see characters connect through video games, computers, iPods and iPhones. It’s also interesting to note how M.J. rejects this as he gets older, preferring the dark room and processing film in a classic way over the digital projects he’s supposed to be working on.
Music is central to the film and used so perfectly, not just as an effective time stamp, but as an emotional through-line and a means of connecting when words might fail. This is most symbolized in The Black Album and the explanation that Ethan Hawke gives about it when he gifts it to Mason Jr.
The Black Album is curated with the best songs from each Beatle’s solo work intermingled with one another like it was on their band’s albums. The point being that what made the Beatles “the greatest fucking band in the world” was that they balanced each other out. Apart they were too much to handle, but when brought together there was a harmony and unified power.
Boyhood is The Black Album of a post-divorce family. Like the Beatles, there are four people in Mason’s core family and we are brought into their story post break-up. Four separate lives, each with their own individual personalities, yet we rarely see any one of them alone. They are presented together as a unit and we are reminded of how the bonds of family and relationships often far exceeds our own individual experiences. On our own, like the Beatles, we get too bogged down by our own belief system. We need others to balance and make us bounce.
We become very self-reflective in our teenage years and so too becomes the film. After two hours of hitting very subtle notes, I think Boyhood earns the right to profess and ponder. I’m not usually a fan of laying the theme of a work right out there in the dialog and beating you over the head with THE MESSAGE, but in Boyhood it wasn’t quite that. Grounded in the mushroom-tripping, “who am I” life of a college freshman and amidst the excitable nerves of a new relationship and phase of life, it actually played perfectly. After watching Mason Jr. and his family grow up 12 years in 3 hours, the final conversation in the film rings loud and true.
“You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us.”
“Yeah, I know, it’s constant, the moments, it’s just — it’s like it’s always right now, you know?”