Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Ellar Salmon, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater
A monolith of cinema, Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood is a soaring accomplishment of product and process. Famously filmed over the course 12 years, Linklater’s long form approach allows for an intimacy and connection like no film before. From the time we meet young Macon at the tender age of six until he moves to college, Linklater fosters his audience’s near parental ties to this young man, making us feel for a character in unprecedented manner. It’s a masterpiece in all senses of the word; a rare trailblazer of a film with macroscopic vision that’s as uniformly jaw-dropping as the final product.
The cat has been in the bag for the bulk of filming on Boyhood but when Linklater and frequent collaborator Ethan Hawke announced last year that their yet untitled 12 Year Project would likely see the light of day in 2014, I wasn’t the only one to rush it to the top of my most anticipated films of 2014 list. While most movies film over the course of a few months, Linklater showed unprecedented patience with a willingness to craft this story over the course of a dozen years. Although the end product probably shared a similar amount of shoot time, breaking it up over that extensive period of time is wholly original (even in regard to Paul Almond‘s celebrated Up series which only checked in once every seven years.) Going into the project, Linklater had a general arc in mind but would let the times reflect unforeseeable changes, moving the direction of the film in line with the sway of culture and ethos. In that regard, the film serves as a time capsule for an ever changing American zeitgesit over the past decade.
Not above chats of Star Wars and girls, The Beatles and drinking, and the once celebratory naivety of Obama’s campaign of hope, Boyhood feels like a film Linklater designed particularly with me in mind. I wonder how many other people will feel the same way; how many will experience such a visceral gut punch and how many will find younger versions of themselves in a morphing Mason. Feeling such a instinctive connection urges questions on the universality of the human experience, it compels us wrestle with the past and acutely acknowledge the shifting paradigm that is the individual. Scientists, and stoners, say that because of our cellular lifespan, a human body is completely replaced within the span of 7 years. Looking at snapshots in time like this, we could be easily convinced this process is even more rapid. From one year to another, there’s a base consistency of character in Macon but its overshadowed by the omnipresent winds of change perennially blowing him into new directions.
Calling it a coming-of-age story feels slight as Boyhood tracks the joy and pain of growing up, one delicate moment at a time. We find ourselves in Macon, a perceptive youth, in his strength and in his weakness, in his whiny teenage angst and his youthful abandon, in his quasi-stoned prolific moments of reflection and his meekest helplessness. When he’s too young to stand up for himself, I felt the pangs of my 8-year old vulnerable self, reeling from my parent’s separation. As his hair grows long and he starts dipping into the pleasure pool, his raw arrogance is a relic I can robustly relate to.
I found myself beaming with pride at moments, disappointed in him at others and silently heartbroken and yet joyful as he reached new milestones. I watched him grow up, I witnessed him learning valuable life lessons, I feel in love beside him. To young Ellar Salmon‘s credit, there’s never a moment where we don’t fully believe the deeply personal yet universal John Doe plight of a boy coming of age. He’s an every man and an intellectual and Salmon’s maturing performance helps to auction the many faces one man can put on. When you stop to consider that Linklater had to take a half-blind shot in the dark with Salmon, casting him well before he could prove himself as a consistent and talented actor willing to put in a dozen years of his life into one performance, the fact that Salmon turned out as good as he was is nothing short of a miracle, much like the film itself.