Saturday, January 24, 2015

“Boyhood”: Life Is Just Like This

Some movies offer answers. “The Theory of Everything” taught me something about love and marriage, as “Zero Dark Thirty” said something to me about faith and perseverance.

Other movies ask questions, stopping short of final answers. These movies can be unsettling; but if they ask the right questions, in the right way, they can stay with you longest.

I only saw “Boyhood” two hours ago, but I’m guessing it stays with me a long time.

As you may have read, “Boyhood” took a long time to make: twelve years. In 2002 director Richard Linklater began filming a family drama about a boy, six-year-old Mason (Ellar Coltrane), his mother (Patricia Arquette), and his older sister (Linklater’s daughter Lorelei). The film wrapped in 2014, after following the same actors, including Ethan Hawke as the divorced but loving dad, for a dozen years. Instead of casting a series of lookalike youths as the central figure, Linklater had the faith and patience to watch Coltrane grow up and his family age with him.

What an act of creative courage! Forget the possibility that one of the leads might have died during the twelve-year shooting cycle. To sustain such a creative vision over such a stretch of time and for it all end with such feeling is a remarkable accomplishment.

Linklater’s unique method of hyper-realistic movie-making might have been only a gimmick if the movie didn’t end saying that this is exactly what life is like: flashing by our eyes, while raising more questions than we can ever answer. Watching “Boyhood,” I felt pangs for my own youth, while watching a family I knew intimately.

What a family! Arquette’s mother goes through a string of husbands and boyfriends, while the wide-eyed children watch the circus pass. Meanwhile, Dad (Hawke) hovers on the periphery, very possibly the best father the children ever had or could ever hope to have.

“Boyhood” is the shortest two-hour, forty-five minute movie you will ever watch. The twelve years of family life blow by the way life itself seems to do. Where did my boyhood go? Or girlhood, you may ask. Some years in the film narrative seem to take only a minute or so, as we catch an important moment in Mason’s life as a third-grader. Don’t we remember our own lives the same way?

The final questions here are the big ones: What was it all about? Is there any sense to my life? We follow Mason from a six-year-old staring at cloud patterns to an eighteen-year-old driving through the Southwest, watching the highway streak past him. Has anything changed in twelve years? For what great destiny did such a boyhood prepare him?

Oscar-nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Hawke), Best Supporting Actress (Arquette), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing, “Boyhood” has to be a favorite to pick up multiple awards.

So far I have it right up there with “The Theory of Everything” as the best picture I’ve seen this year.

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