Time is our enemy. Not only do our bodies erode, but our memories become nothing but indecipherable runes. Maybe it’s just me, but as time marches on, my memories are no longer defined by facts. Rather, they’re defined by a collective feeling, an emotion that refuses to dim. I guess that’s something we can expect as our minds tirelessly digest the mounting moments of our lives. Obviously there are some moments we’ll never entirely forget, especially when they dramatically alter our life, but I think we lose sight of the fact that our lives aren’t made up of singular moments. In reality our lives consist of thousands upon thousands of microscopic events building on one another. Invariably, it’s understandable for us to believe our lives move so swiftly, as the ferocious jaws of time swallow daily achievements, forcing us to forget a moment as simple and pure as the first time we learned to tie our shoes. This swift passage of time is masterfully emulated in Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking film Boyhood, a film that was twelve years in the making.
Similar in scope to Terrence Malick’s awe inspiring Tree of Life, but substantially less elliptical, Boyhood tracks the evolution of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his family over the course of twelve years. From a wide-eyed six-year-old to a rebellious eighteen-year-old man, Mason’s transformation is painstakingly documented in twelve vignettes. The slices of Mason’s life Linklater serves us varies greatly in size, flavor, and texture. There are moments that are wholly dramatic and damaging, like the violent meltdown of an alcoholic stepfather, to events that are seemingly inconsequential and humorous, like a brother and sister annoying one another on a slow afternoon. And there are moments that are emotionally sublime and simple, like a mother sending her son off into the world. Not one moment is any more important than another, each is a fundamental part of Mason’s existence, as well as our own.
Through Mason’s journey, Richard Linklater awakens memories that lie dormant deep in the recesses of our mind. The specifics of Mason’s life are notably different from our own, but the broader strokes of his experience are universal enough that it’s easy to see our reflection in him. From moments of insecurity after a drastic haircut to a messy romantic breakup, the film is as much about us as it is about him. Compounding the film’s commonality is the role of Mason’s family. Mason is undoubtedly the focal point of the film, but the growth and decay his family experiences are seismic and reminiscent of any family dynamic in this world. Adding weight to the proceedings are wonderfully measured performances, all of which were beautifully harnessed over the course of twelve years. From Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, who are fully realize parents to Mason, to Lorelei Linklater as Mason’s sister, all the performances feel genuine and lived in, making us feel like we’re part of this aging family.
And watching everyone age, although frightening in the sense of our collective march towards doom, is quite magical. Kudos to Linklater for filming Boyhood over the course of twelve years. There are many films that would’ve simply casted three actors to play Mason at various ages, but Linklater’s ballsy production decision is impressive, as we literally watch a person grow up in front of us. But the greatest decision Linklater made, outside of filming every year for over a decade, was his choice in editing. Instead of using visual benchmarks or chapter titles to chronicle Mason’s growth, Linklater and editor Sandra Adair mold the film under the construct of reality: time moves quickly and mercilessly, making the years bleed into one another. Outside of a few pop culture references horribly shoehorned in, this method is wondrous and depressing at the same time, further demonstrating the film’s potent central theme: time is a precious commodity that disappears far too fast.