Boyhood (2014), seemingly in its trailer to be nothing so much as a Disney cash cow, is a uniquely forward-looking movie. Joining a roster of contemporary films on the case of what the old Surrealists referred to as the “more,” it is decidedly and thrillingly distant from “art” films as we have come to know them. Strikingly estranged from those blue-chip sagas of horrifyingly rugged individualism with their burdens of physical carnage and emotional massacre, it dares, in the confines of the Lone Star State, to convey the subversive phenomenon (shocking in iconoclastic circles because apparently rather conventional) of slow, uncertain maturation toward something new. Adding to its pariah status within the orbit of very tough love is its gusto for discovery about how mainstream domesticity fosters, however willy-nilly, migration away from mainstream domesticity.
The boyhood of Mason, our protagonist, might be imagined to be a variation upon James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. But that would be feeble imagining. Moored as he is to a channel of its own reckoning, Linklater has nothing to do with precious softies—being in fact much closer to Anton Corbijn’s sharp kick in the gut to those clever dandies, Jules and Jim, namely, his movie about the ill-starred band, Joy Division, titled, Control (2007). We’re firmly in Texas, here (Linklater’s home-state); but not the gun-crazy Texas of the Coens and David Lynch, nor the virus-paced, transcendental-mystic Texas of Terrence Malick, nor the mass-homicide-friendly Texas of Quentin Tarantino. We’re in a Texas where it’s a big deal that a sophomore co-ed (Mason’s sister, Samantha, whom we saw to be a precociously [sophomoric] smart-assed nine-year-old [her divorced mother’s pointing out the family’s needing to move to Houston, where her mother would help with the kids while she goes to college to enable supporting them financially, eliciting from her, “Fine, Mother. Do whatever you want. We’re not moving…No.No.No!” [and she makes snappy popping sounds with her lips to register as a robot]]) cannot, in contrast to other family members and friends giving droll toasts to Mason on his graduating from high school, do more than have a bit of stage fright and mumble, “Good luck…” Her succumbing to such disarray—when her brother, whom she had made the butt of so many of her self-confident barbs, was now able to face with considerable poise and eagerness the challenges of his own imminent stint in college—is arresting in its glimpse of that viscosity weighing upon the narrative’s myriad efforts to catch and control fire. (more…)