Boyhood vs. The Truman Show

and The Truman Show (1998) have more in common than you’d think. For Boyhood, the appeal and popularity of Richard Linklater’s film, to a large part, goes to the length of time it took to film. Twelve years shooting the life of a boy growing up is a first in film-making. It was a daring idea. After all, though the story centered around the coming-of-age of Mason, the audience observed the aging process of the entire cast. That kind of commitment is remarkable. Stop-go-stop-go with a project and you risk fracturing cohesion and mood. Years rolling by alter a personality. Opinions change as anger and happiness come and go. We all feel the effects of time. Do you remember how you felt twelve years ago? Most likely what was important to you back then has altered, and your passions have waned or have grown into a new dimension. Writer/director Richard Linklater, then, took a true risk convincing a diverse cast to stay the course. I suspect the reason he succeeded was because he made the plane as he flew it.  Was this a reality film? Linklater set up a situation, threw in the characters, and filmed the reactions. I wonder if Linklater knew how he’d end his story when he began filming in 2002? I bet he had no idea, and this is what made his experiment unique.

Directed by Peter Weir and written by Andrew Niccol, in The Truman Show, we are the audience who watches Truman being watched by another audience. In the format of a reality-show, unbeknownst to Truman a community contained under a dome agreed to play a role next to Truman for the rest of their lives. The soap opera became reality. Over time the television audience watches the cast age. The drama of life happens and Truman’s reactions become the story. A play-within-a-play adds complexity to a story; we watch the reactions of the film audience reacting to Truman. Who watches us?

Truman faces his maker and experiences an awakening. To me, it’s a better coming-of-age story than Boyhood. The Truman Show featured better cinematography and solid acting by the ensemble cast.

With Boyhood, I found myself less engaged. It lacked a purpose so I felt bored, too, because the central character, Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, acted as well as Hayden Christensen did as Anakin Skywalker. The scene between gathered eighth graders and seniors drinking it up and talking trash was painful to watch. It was just plain bad acting. Thank goodness for the adults. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke acted just fine. Sad ending for them, no? They had their shot at life and arrived at the finish line disillusioned and emasculated.

What I did like about Boyhood was illustrating social history in America from 2002 to 2013. This is one of the first films which chronicles the first chunk of time of the 21st century. What fun to witness the evolution of technology in such a short time such as computers, phones, video games. Yes, to Harry Potter, the music, and the saga of Super Woman who did it all with no help from males. Add in the political climate between Bush and Obama; soldiers returning from Iraq; the rise and bust of the housing market, and the educational pressures for teenagers to get into college. How about our society’s obsession to text? Linklater created an interesting social timeline and threw in some satire for those in the present tense. Baby-boomers have no voice in this film.

Personally, I have seen The Truman Show a few times and find it far more entertaining. The philosophical questions posed about what is real, the religious imagery, and Truman’s coming-of-age is more interesting to me than Mason’s.

Originally published at cindybruchman.wordpress.com

Cindy Bruchman, Film writer at Seroword

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2 Comments

  1. smilingldsgirl March 2, 2015 at 23:05

    I thought you had an interesting comparison with Truman Show until you compared Ellar to Hayden Christensen. That is absurd. It’s hard to respect the rest of your points when you have such an extreme opinion about one of the films.

  2. Great post – I didn’t think of comparing these two but it makes a lot of sense. Personally, I agree that The Truman Show is a more interesting film but Boyhood has a lot of beauty to it. I’m in owe of the fact that Linklater decided to take 12 years to make a movie and chose to tell the story of regular, next-door people and the absolute simplicity of life in it. Isn’t that poetic? I wrote my take on Boyhood here.

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