Home » Essay » “Boyhood”: Richard Linklater’s Lesson on Adolescence

“Boyhood”: Richard Linklater’s Lesson on Adolescence

The Evolution of Ellar Coltrane in "Boyhood"

The Evolution of Ellar Coltrane in “Boyhood”

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
– Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986

We’ve seen a lot of memorable characters from movies and television shows grow up over a certain period of time. We’ve seen Harry Potter and his friends survive seven years at Hogwarts after destroying Voldemort. In Boy Meets World, Cory Matthews learned lessons from his parents and his teacher/next door neighbor Mr. Feeny about growing up and heading into the real world. Even in The Godfather, Michael Corleone took Vito’s place as the Don of the mafia family. Imagine if those films or television shows were filmed over a certain period of time and put into one film/miniseries. We watch the characters grow up before our eyes. It would be one helluva project, but it would be very tricky. What if a gifted and confident filmmaker made that project?

Enter Richard Linklater, a native from Texas who directed such unique films as the Before trilogy (Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight) and School of Rock. He began a project called Boyhood (originally titled Growing Up, then 12 Years) in 2002 consisting of a 6-year-old boy becoming an adult. Every year, Linklater would use the same cast to film some scenes to see them age and mature before our eyes over the course of one movie. When his daughter Lorelei Linklater lost interest in the project after a few years, Linklater refused, thinking it would be unacceptable to kill off her character because it would be too much from what he was planning. His project wouldn’t look that well. At the end of production, he made the cast feel like a real family.

Ellar Coltrane and Patricia Arquette in "Boyhood"

Ellar Coltrane and Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”

What makes this 2014 movie so brilliant is the scope. It wouldn’t do well if Linklater decided to separate it into countless sequels. He was capable of turning this ambitious project into a singular 3-hour narrative epic. He doesn’t give timestamps to notify what year we’re in. The audience figures it out when the main character’s voice deepens, has a different hairstyle, or when someone talks about the war in Iraq or the Obama election, or if they hear a song from a certain year in the 21st century (a subtle transition). There are times in the movie where he is giving the audience a lesson in adolescence; asking us questions about life.

The movie begins with 6-year old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) laying on the grass looking up at the clouds; using his imagination. Even as a kid, he feels as if he is in his own little world; collecting arrowheads, playing video games (GameBoy Advance and XBOX), and watching Dragonball Z. He slowly but surely comes to realize how hard it is to live in a family with divorced parents. His mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) has custody of Mason and his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Olivia is struggling to make life easier for herself and her children. They frequently move around the state of Texas, so Olivia can get remarried and get a college degree. The kids had to get used to having a stepfather, and following their strict rules. In one tense scene, Olivia married her college professor at the University of Houston. He tells the kids to finish their chores. His alcoholism starts taking over his life. He drinks hard liquor at the dinner table. Mason ignores him, then he starts throwing glasses and plates. From his facial expression, Mason wants to get out of the house and spend time with his father.

Speaking of which, Mason and Samantha spend every other weekend with their father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). However, they haven’t spent time with him for a year because he went up to Alaska. Mason Sr. is a musician/songwriter.

Boyhood even references Richard Linklater’s early films. There are scenes where he plays his songs to his kids, which are reminiscent to the scene near the end of Before Sunset where Celine plays a waltz for Jesse.

Richard Linklater setting up the Obama/Biden sign for a scene in "Boyhood"

Richard Linklater setting up the Obama/Biden sign for a scene in “Boyhood”

Mason Sr. acts like a teenager. He comes back home to Texas in his Pontiac GTO to pick up his kids. They spend time going to the bowling alley (“You don’t need the bumpers. Life won’t give you bumpers.”), seeing Roger Clemens pitch at a Houston Astros game, spend time putting up signs for the Obama election (a very hilariously amusing scene), or spending a weekend out at camp. They talk about various topics (ones we would hear in real life). For instance, the sharp dialogue between Mason Jr. and Mason Sr. as they discuss about a possible Star Wars sequel. It amused me because they talk about it years before it will be announced. It’s almost as if the producers of Lucasfilm took Hawke and Coltrane’s (and possibly everyone’s) discussion into consideration.

Boyhood is natural on how it portrays the life of a fictional family. It’s easy to believe how real it’s depicted through the eyes of an ordinary boy. When we start seeing Mason growing up as a teenager before our eyes, we see him getting into serious situations like a typical teenager would. He encounters bullies at school, gets into peer pressure, partying, and drinking. Mason is about to go to college, and learn the responsibilities of becoming an adult. Mason begins to have an interest in photography, and falling in love with an attractive girl named Sheena (Zoe Graham). They begin having a conversation at a party – also reminiscent to the Before movies – and become immediately attracted to each other. They decide to spend a night with Samantha and her boyfriend in Austin. They share a conversation in a 24-hour restaurant eating nachos, and share a kiss as the sun rises.

Ellar Coltrane and Ethan Hawke in "Boyhood"

Ellar Coltrane and Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”

Seeing Boyhood in the theater is an experience like no other. There are times in which I laughed, smiled, gasped, and felt very moved by it. I couldn’t help but relate to any of the family’s situations in the movie. I grew up in a family in which my parents got divorced at a young age, and realizing how hard it is to be in this situation, even up to this day. If anyone out there can’t relate to this movie at all, they might have been spending their entire lives under a rock. I really admired what Richard Linklater and his phenomenal cast have done. Not only is this is easily the best film of 2014 and the best of the decade so far, but this is also one of my absolute favorite films of all-time.

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