Movie concepts, or projects, don’t come much bigger and grander than this. For a period of 12 years, starting in 2002, director Richard Linklater intermittently filmed a young boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane), his sister (Linklater’s own daughter) and his parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, reprising their roles throughout) every year, following Mason on his journey through life from shy six-year-old, to when he leaves home to begin college.
One could be forgiven for seeing this as a gimmick to reel in moviegoers to a humdrum coming of age story, but Boyhood’s powerful concept is so much more than the sum of it’s parts. Watching a person grow up; I mean really, truly grow up, in front of your eyes is an experience like no other I’ve seen captured before on film.
To offer synopsis of the movie is to undersell it. Boyhood is the world chronicled in the background while life goes on in the foreground. Mason’s mom struggles to pull her life together while raising two kids alone. Hawke’s character isn’t ready for the responsibilities of fatherhood, and thus Mason must cope with a catalogue of surrogate fathers who make life that much more difficult. Characters come and go, cross paths, and disappear just as fleetingly. There are twists in the tale here and there, but the world that Linklater has documented is so keenly observed that none feel extraordinary or scripted.
Without ever seeming to try, Richard Linklater’s film invokes such powerful reserves of empathy that you’ll find your heart beating right alongside every character’s. There hasn’t been a film that makes you feel more like you exist inside of it, that you are invested its world as much as you are your own for our generation until now. What Linklater and his wonderful cast have managed to do is capture the essence of what it is to experience life and interact with the world around you.
At the center of it all is Mason, a kid who we never quite figure out because that’s not really the point of it. He’s just a kid, rolling with whatever life throws his way. Over the course of the movie – his life – Mason changes so much but not at all. It’s easy to identify with him because at there are so many beautiful moments that you realise you were him. Ellar Coltrane’s performance, if it can be called that, is masterful. The everyday mundane ebs and flows with the big revelatory moments but thats exactly how life is and he never gets bogged down in over-selling it all.
Boyhood comes as close at capturing the human experience as anything you have or ever will see. It will feel like you have watched a full life, fully lived. Boyhood lives and breathes the rhythms of everyday reality; it is a soulful, poignant and astonishing work of art.