by Jon Warner
When I recall my childhood, there is a remembrance of a certain feeling I used to have as a kid. I used to feel like the years dragged on and on and never seemed to end. Christmas never came soon enough. Birthdays took too long to come around again. Summer dragged on in a stream of endless days. Boredom often creeped in and time seemed to go so slowly that I couldn’t stand it. I’m not sure if that’s a common feeling that many of us had as children, but it’s certainly something that came to my mind often. There was something that always made me feel like I wished adulthood would come soon. But it seemed so far away. Flash forward to my current existence at the age of 35. Months seem to flash by in the blink of an eye. There is never enough time to do everything I need to accomplish or want to accomplish. It seemed we were just getting our two girls to be potty-trained and now BOTH of them will be getting on the bus in September. It’s getting so I can hardly remember how my girls behaved and acted when they were younger. At some point in time, our lives go from dragging on slowly, to flashing in front of us so quickly that we can hardly keep up. I can’t pinpoint when that changed for me, but it certainly has and I have no doubt it may be many years again before time slows if it ever will.
Some might focus on the fact that Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a story of a young boy and his growth from small child to young manhood. With my current perspective as parent, more so than child, the film plays more for me as an example of just how quickly time passes, how fleeting our family units can be, how so much of life becomes a blur, and especially from the parental perspective: how quickly our children grow up. In this way, it simply, but devastatingly examines childhood as if we are loving relatives, guardians or parents, viewing the story of Mason Evans through our own lens, wherever we may be on that spectrum. For me it’s clear that Linklater, who was the father of his 8 year-old daughter Lorelei whom he cast in this film in 2002, was influenced by his own childhood, but also by his own sense of parenting a child. For many parents, every year that passes can be marked most often by things their children are doing. Boyhood can be viewed in nearly the same way and is the mode of reflection that resonates most with me.
As it plays out for nearly 3 hours, we view in vignette form, a sequence or two filmed using the same actors and actresses over the course of 12 years. These sequences are magically edited and strung together so effortlessly, the film almost never seems to skip a beat despite the length of the filming process. Ellar Coltrane plays Mason from age 6 to age 18. Lorelei Linklater plays his older sister Samantha; Patricia Arquette plays their mother Olivia; and Ethan Hawke plays the father Mason Sr. It’s hard to describe any particular sequence as being a standout as the film truly is greater than the sum of its parts, with each successive scene (and therefore passage of real time) building exponentially upon the previous. Most of the plot could be considered fairly standard and straightforward stuff: parental separation, moving, remarriage, divorce, girlfriends, drugs etc. What is most memorable is just how effortless and weighty it all becomes with the impact of the aging of the actors and how quickly the changes occur in front of us. To quote Ethan Hawke, the film is “a little like time-lapse photography of a human being”. But considering it’s such a conceptually-gimmicky premise, the film is superbly underplayed and unassuming with a strong sense of humble honesty. Linklater lays out the film for us and lets the aging actors do things to our minds that no other film trickery could do. I recall hearing about the premise of this film at the time of the release of Before Sunset back in 2004 and thinking about how cool and amazing it would be if Linklater was ever able to finish the film. However, I did have my doubts about being able to execute such a lengthy project as Boyhood. It is one of the more significant film achievements to have completed Boyhood as initially planned and have it turn out as simple and edited together as if there was never a hitch. It’s really a marvel of a film.
And this now brings us back to real life and our own existence. It’s hard not to feel like time is slipping away. You try to make time to slow down and enjoy the moment as often as you can but there is a prevailing sense that it’s all futile and time will slip away very quickly. Our memories will fade and fail; our efforts will often go unnoticed and we’ll fail to appreciate the things and people around us. I think Patricia Arquette’s monologue sequence at the end of the film is something that leaves a strong impression upon me. She says, “You know what I’m realizing? My life is just going to go. Like that. This series of milestones. Getting married. Having kids. Getting divorced. The time that we thought you were dyslexic. When I taught you how to ride a bike. Getting divorced… again. Getting my master’s degree. Finally getting the job I wanted. Sending Samantha off to college. Sending you off to college. You know what’s next? Huh? It’s my fucking funeral!” She ends by saying, “I just thought there would be more.” As I read into that last line, it can be more of many things: more time with our children, more to life, more time to enjoy the journey. The more we mark time, the more we realize what has passed us by.