Boyhood: Synthetic Storytelling

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Boyhood is one of my favorites this season. Part of the reason is because there is so much to talk about. It’s like a Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman film—you always discover new angles every time you watch.

I wrote about Whiplash being a different kind of coming-of-age film this year, but Richard Linklater has fabricated a work of art that goes beyond all boundaries. Of course the main reason for this is the 12 consecutive years it intentionally took to make the film. Because of this persistence, Boyhood has a unique truth. Take for instance the soundtrack. The music paired with the film wasn’t the director researching and choosing a song that was popular during the time. Instead, I image Linklater when these scenes were filmed knowing what music at the time was popular and what corresponded well with the moment. There is this unbreakable authenticity because it brings viewers back, especially for someone around the same age as protagonist Mason (Ellar Coltrane). We remember the music, the styles, the fads, and the uncomfortable growing moments that come with childhood. And Mason’s childhood is one of my favorite parts about Boyhood. He has such cherubic features that the camera focuses on repeatedly and the innocent questions he asks along the way again correspond perfectly with his look. Like when he lies on the couch beside his father and asks if elves are real or when he asks his mother why she remarried when they had a perfectly fine family to begin with. The way Mason looks at the world is peculiar, but I also remember feeling the same way and wondering the same things as a child.

One of the fascinating juxtaposing ideas involving Mason’s innocence is yet the amount of maturity this child, boy, and teenager has. From the start, we realize Mason is extremely intuitive. He continuously watches his mother and her potential lovers from the corners of different rooms and in the next take—as time jumps ahead—Mason’s observations become reality. Mason’s maturity is seen mostly when he is older and in his last few years of high school. He talks passionately about the social media world and how it has come to control us and shows once again how differently he sees simple things like football games and college education. With this maturity, though, comes a boy whom his ex-girlfriend points out can be overbearingly negative. However, Mason’s attitude isn’t unbearable to me. There are qualities we may be annoyed with, but the young man he molds into is one we understand and experience firsthand. We don’t have to imagine what Mason went through when he was younger that causes his changing attitude. We simply experienced them simultaneously.

Boyhood shows typical life lessons that start off small and evolve over time—but there are also moments and feelings the characters surprise us with. For example, recent Golden Globe winner Patricia Arquette plays Samantha and Mason’s mother Olivia, and even though we see a survey of her love life and all the downfalls, she always keeps it together and finds a way for her family to move forward. Yes the family relocates a lot and her choices aren’t always excusable, but I find myself rooting for her the entire time. However, one of these surprising moments comes when Mason leaves for college and Olivia breaks down at the kitchen table. Olivia has had a thick skin the entire time, but is now ghostly pale, sobbing and sits broken hearted before her son. This scene also brings about a darker side of the film. It reveals life’s expectations we often feel fall short which rings true for Mason’s mother as she reflects on her life in a series of events and tells Mason, “ I just thought there would be more.” It’s such a sincere, complicated moment and the last time we see and hear Olivia.

I once had an interesting conversation with my sister. We wondered what it would be like if we could watch our lives and all we’ve done and what we’ve become. Would we be happy with the outcome? What would we see that we had forgotten about? We can only imagine this from watching films like The Truman Show and Boyhood reminds me of this idea as well. I’m not Mason nor do I look or act like him most of the time, but by experiencing this film I feel in a way I am watching part of myself love, hurt, and grow. Most of all, I am watching one of the most entertaining aspects of life: a journey of the human condition.

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3 comments

  1. Really looking forward to seeing this movie soon.
    Great review, and I love your blog! I just started one like this recently, so check it out if you get the chance!

    Keep up the great work!

    Also, you might find this funny. I just saw it this morning, and even though I haven’t seen Boyhood, I still found this very funny.

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