The Oscars are less than two weeks off, and the Collected Mutineer has reviewed three of the Best Picture nominations so far. When we were deciding who would review which film, I pushed men, women, and children aside in my eagerness to claim Boyhood. Why? Well, let’s talk about what the film is about.
The film follows the life of Mason from the age of five until the age of eighteen. It is the brainchild of Richard Linklater, who both wrote and directed the film over a period of twelve years, allowing for the actors to age at the same rate as their characters. The plot may seem simple, but as the film tries to maintain a stance of realism, we come to understand that “real life” is rarely simple. This is not Leave it to Beaver; grittiness and heartbreak mark the milestones of Mason’s life as much as love and laughter.
It is this grittiness that makes Boyhood awesome. I don’t use that word for lack of a better one, but rather for the formal definition: “extremely impressive or daunting” or “inspiring awe.” The scope of the film itself is impressive; creating, maintaining, and producing a film over the course of twelve years is something most filmmakers would deem near impossible, but it is the cast that gives the film its heart. As a child of divorced parents, Patricia Arquette’s Olivia and Ethan Hawke’s Mason, Sr. were not so different from my own family, and Mason’s experiences with blended families, domestic abuse, and adolescence brought forth a new look at what it means to be a child growing up in middle-class America.
Boyhood is quiet in its appeal; it has no special effects, no CGI’d battle scenes filmed for the sole purpose of luring in audiences. The film presents a sequence of moments, an ode to ageing and parenting, that transition seamlessly between years. We have nothing to mark the passing of time but the characters themselves. We see the years pass in the changing of Olivia’s hair, in Mason Sr.’s mustache, but mostly, in the boy Mason himself. Major events are mentioned casually, offhandedly, as a way to orient ourselves in Mason’s timeline, but as viewers, we are more interested in the major events of Mason’s life: the first time he drinks beer, the first time he reads Harry Potter, and the first time he falls in love. Mason’s discovery of his individuality is juxtapositioned with his parents’ journey through middle age. The film isn’t so much about boyhood as it is about growing older, no matter your age or gender. We blink, and the boy Mason is a man. He is independent and legally an adult. In the final act, Olivia’s heartfelt confession, “I just thought there would be more” resonates with us as we watch Mason leave for university
We watch a child age to maturity in two hours and forty-three minutes. There were no actor-swaps, no special make-ups, and it begs the question: should the success of Boyhood change the way we make films? Perhaps the saturation of large budgets and expensive production in the film industry has reached its middle age. Perhaps a film like Boyhood, a low-budget indie film with a twelve year filming schedule, is what we need to remind us that awesome films can be born from simplicity, and that perhaps the journey to the end of childhood can be as epic and sweeping as the biggest fantasy blockbuster.
Want to read up more on the other Best Picture nominations? You can read our reviews here.