my thoughts on boyhood (the film) by Richard Linklater
Making anything takes time—making something with your hands, making a decision, an observation, a change—it takes time to do, and it also takes time away to reflect. The leisure of allowing time’s force to bear itself upon one’s work is seldom afforded, especially in the case of film. Michael Apted’s Up series is based in the passage of time, but sequentially, across 8 discreet segments that express the 49 years it so far encompasses. Boyhood gives us 12 years, but all within one piece.
So, what we see, Boyhood’s narrative conceit at first reading, is 12 years in the life of a boy, Mason, from 6 to 18, following with him through his own becoming. And it’s true, we do see this. What we also see though, when the screen drops dark and we walk away, is the work of an artist bringing to bear the inimitable insights that only time grants, when invited to.
Boyhood is infused with love and tenderness, cutting us all some slack about what’s imperfect and misguided in the shambolic jumble that is being alive and living a life. In Boyhood, people restrain themselves, without withholding; not settling for too little, yet accepting each other’s limitations because each seems to be aware that they too have their own.
Everything is mundane and anodyne, yet it’s all, also, potent and consequential. Like the fado singer who wails into words the deepest mysteries of what it means to live, Linklater, the mercifully milder balladeer, reminds us about the bittersweet truth that all is finite, and yet, splendidly, as Mason begins to comprehend, all we ever have is now. So use it well.
Linklater does—he uses time to tell this story, longitudinally checking in with now, twelve times. It’s across the passage of time, and through Mason’s growing, that we understand the ripening of self-knowledge and world wisdom; that, in the process of maturation and becoming, there’s no short cut. Time is a constant, and while we’re a part of it, the only way forward is through. So, what’s gained while we witness Mason feeling his way into his life and into his own becoming, is really our own. Witnessing the wilderness of Mason’s intimacies, we know our own; but we’re not on our own, alone, Linklater seems to say. Somehow, we’re all with Linklater, the film’s ultimate witness, a man who seems to have deliberately structured this work to document his own growth, looking back while casting forward from here, and what he sees and learns seems to lay perfectly over, or become embedded within, the gaze of a growing boy. The parallel lives of these two separate people are shared, and the continuity between them reaches across time and the screen to join with all of us.
In Boyhood, Linklater captures and conveys his own maturation as a man, exploring his own understanding of (his) life, and his own maturation as an artist, sorting, still, through his creative cosmos for what matters. And what he seems to be discovering is that these two things cohere: the artist and the man are one; the boy and the man are one; the maker and the witness are one—there is seamlessness between who we are and what we do, or there should be, or can be. And that’s what we can hope for, reach for, and make for ourselves.
We may all be just winging it, as Mason’s father confirms to his son, but what we do matters, and it matters most, Linklater is saying, to ourselves as much in our solitude as in our connections. At some point you’re no longer growing up, you’re aging, but no one can pinpoint that moment exactly, so take care, pay attention, notice the flow of the minutiae, cut a little slack, know that it matters, and take the time to make it so.