Boyhood and the Novelty of 12 Years of Filmmaking

Filmed over the course of 12 years and released in 2014, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood depicts the life and growth of Mason Jr. in Texas as he experiences the world, his family and himself change. Boyhood stars Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette.

This is the very bare bones of Boyhood. Linklater doesn’t dazzle us with action or over-exaggerated drama and tension. Instead, we are treated to a delightful and inspiring two hours and forty minutes of witnessing a boy grow from the age of 5 to 18.

Heading into Boyhood, I admit I had some pre-conceptions of how this film was going to work. Whenever it was mentioned, the fact that it was filmed over 12 years was undoubtedly the hot topic and I was expecting Linklater to play upon this, use this, take advantage of this. However, Linklater smartly moves from one period of Mason’s life to another and leaves all the working-out to you. The only indication we have of a change of time is, say, the length of his haircut, the quality of graphics on his computer game or the tone of his voice. See, it’s these little things that have been keeping me up at night when pondering upon the gravitas of Boyhood. It’s this genius that captivates me the most. We don’t get a ‘Two years later…’ message at the bottom of the screen because we’re able to witness the changes in culture, attitude, clothing, music – everything – and to be honest, this style of filmmaking, for me, just takes it to a whole new level. We don’t have to try to ‘buy’ the actors’ performances, because it’s happening right there in front of us.

Needless to say, Boyhood isn’t perfect in every way. In fact, it’s not difficult to list its faults. The cinematography isn’t anything excellent as, in places, it seems like a TV Drama and, at times, Mason as a character tip-toes on the line of being irritating during his adolescent years. The choice of music, although nostalgic, doesn’t provide any cinematic weight throughout the film, but I can’t help but think that these things aren’t important when you consider what Linklater is trying to do with Boyhood.

It can be considered that, in fact, it’s not about how well-constructed the mise-en-scene is, or the likeability of the main protagonist as it’s these cinematic techniques that keep us involved in the cinematic or technical side to a film. This is what makes it different from real life. We don’t see the world with professionally-crafted sets or scenes with attractive actors and exciting events. Real life just isn’t like that. For example, Hollywood has built up this strange standard that in dramatic films, the main character harkens back to the time he shared his first beer with his dad and they experience this spiritual connection as he realises the man he’s going to become. Real life isn’t like this. Mason experiences his first beer at a sleepover with his friends as they dork around with some of the seniors. An experience which I’m sure many have encountered.

For me, this is what has inspired me the most with Boyhood. Sometimes the most important parts in life that shape who we become when we’re older aren’t the huge fights, the high school dramas or how many parties you’ve been to. It’s those small moments that you share with your family and your friends that play the biggest part in sculpting the human being you become in the bigger world, outside of your home town. Linklater hits this nail right on the head in making Boyhood the most real and the most human film I’ve ever seen.

Hawke and Arquette deliver excellent performances, as well as the characters that come and go throughout Mason’s life. I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to inspecting Boyhood, but that’s just what makes it so intriguing. There’s so much more to it from the philosophical conversations between Mason and his father or his girlfriend, to how this film would impact upon an audience member who herself is a mother, for instance.

As a young adult, I feel like it definitely meant a lot to me as the credits started rolling. I just wonder what it meant for everyone else.

Christopher Hambling, Film Features Writer

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  1. Great thoughts. I can’t imagine watching this one again, but it absolutely needs to be seen by everyone who considers themselves at least a mild fan of cinema. I was enthralled by it for the time I watched though.

  2. I was really curious getting into this film. The storyline is simple but so genuine and true. It felt very real to me, a feeling that you don’t often get these days in cinema. This article sums up perfectly my thoughts on the movie. A great experience!

  3. I really appreciate this movie, but the reasons why I like it so much intellectually are also the reasons why watching it was just kind of meh for me. I like that there wasn’t excessive drama. I like that there weren’t any big performance pieces (surprised and glad Arquette got the Oscar because I think one of the important features of the actors that they not appear to be acting at all). At times I nearly thought I was watching a documentary – possibly because the production values weren’t always stellar, but also because it’s organic and sometimes awkward.

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