Nostalgia is a funny thing. It's sneaky and subtle. It slyly and innately forces you to escape from reality and revert back to a former time or place of bliss. Movies are often just that – an escape into fiction. The best ones toss you into an alternate reality, immersing you in the story as if the world around you all at once became static. Few movies can hit a sweet spot of otherworldliness and nostalgic familiarity.
Boyhood, an innovative and groundbreaking new film, attempts to do just that.
In 2002, director Richard Linklater embarked on a unique film project that would span some twelve years of production. He wanted the film to take an audience through the process of growing up, but the conventional ways that has been done previously weren't enough to satisfy the vision he had. Most other movies would play out one of two ways in attempting to convey the same ideas:
- You'll have a movie that focuses on a small window of time in a child's life, perhaps detailing one or two traumatic events that shaped the youth's future.
- You'll have a movie that spans a great deal of time, but different actors are pulled in to play the same character as they age.
Boyhood's most, but not only, unique feature is that Linklater filmed the same actors for twelve years. From film veterans like Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, to newbies Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater (Richard's daghter), each actor was committed to shooting for one week each summer for over a decade. With this unique undertaking, we literally get to watch a boy come of age, and we see it from several perspectives. Each actor, and I would say particularly Arquette, gives a good performance. None of them are flashy or over-stated, and that helps maintain what Linklater is going for.
Mason is a six year old boy growing up in Texas. He has a sister named Samantha and a divorced mother and father. That's pretty much the plot.
One of the most beautiful things about this movie is it's subtlety. Linklater carefully chooses which moments of this boy's story to let us in on, and most of them are not huge, dramatic vignettes. Over the course of nearly 3 hours, which has to be paced well to keep us hooked, we watch a young family age; we watch them laugh; we watch them struggle; we watch them grow.
We are never told what year it is. Sometimes the scene changes and the characters are instantly older. Boyhood weaves in a variety of cultural references, from Coldplay songs to Harry Potter book releases, to keep us anchored in time and further dip us into our own childhood memories.
Boyhood seems to remind us that growing up is not something that happens with us but something that happens to us. The movie isn't at all concerned with milestones but in moments. There may be a few major events in our childhoods, but it is strange how much we can change over time, simply through the same circumstances, encounters, hurdles, and relationships that every other kid out there has. That's probably why this movie hits home with me so easily. It's simple perspective and chapters sent me back to my childhood with near flawless ease.
It's a sprawling epic, but it accomplishes this through a subdued intimacy that reinforces the entire point the film wants to make. Magic is real; it's all around us every day. Ordinary is merely a perception.