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Boyhood – 18/07/2014 @ TheWatershed, Bristol.

August 6, 2014

Not a stranger to time lapse concepts, director Richard Linklater has already displayed a similar thing with his ‘Before…’ trilogy where a brief period of a couple are shown to us every nine years. Through that time, their relationship evolves and they of course age considerably in each film. In his latest film ‘Boyhood’, Linklater has filmed once a year over a period of 12 years to show each character age and grow as a person in one single movie. What he achieves here is not just showing the main character Mason Jnr’s boyhood, he shows how the family grow as mother, father and sister/daughter. The passage of time is un-announced, but it somehow flows naturally. We can tell when time has passed by the sudden difference in haircuts and the changes in cultural aspects like games consoles and computer games, phone technology, music soundtrack and the political landscape of the time.
Boyhood does not concern itself with a plot. It is simply a look at various moments of Mason Jnr’s (Ellar Coltrane) life from the age of 6 to the age of 18. He comes from a broken home where his Dad Mason Snr (Ethan Hawke) has left his mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) to raise Mason Jr and Samantha (Lorelie Linklater, Richard Linklater’s daughter). Mason Snr starts to come back into his children’s lives to spend quality time with them while Olivia has a string of failed relationships with alcoholic men, but also tries her best to raise her kids while embarking on a career as a psychology lecturer. We see Mason throughout these events grow up on screen from a mischevious, charismatic little boy into an artistic and in some ways, a negative slacker, but ultimately a nice guy starting out in college. It may have been said in many reviews, but the most fascinating thing about this film is each characters evolution both physically and character wise.
Olivia’s character starts off as a young single mother who is struggling to make ends meet and is dating a self absorbed man who expects too much of her. She moves town with the children and starts to study psychology. She marries her lecturer Professor Bill Welbrock who initially is a the intellectual and charismatic older man, but eventually becomes an authoritarian and abusive drunk. When Olivia becomes a lecturer herself, she dates one of her students, a seemingly sensitive ex soldier, who eventually becomes a macho drunk like the last guy. In my opinion, comparing the two men, they have something in common. Each man is seemingly indoctrinated with the macho expectations of being a man. They have to exert their authority and provide for everyone, something they clearly cannot cope with. Olivia manages to get through these tough times with her kids and career intact.
Mason Snr evolves from absent father to mature and responsible figure who is a big part of his children’s lives. He starts off as a little childish and idealistic. He wants to play in a band, drive his Pontiac and do his bit for the Obama campaign. As time passes, we see him gradually relinquish his idealism for a responsible job and marries himself into a right wing family. In an earlier scene when he enlists the help of his children to put Obama signs in peoples gardens, there is a confrontation from an old man with a Confederate flag who is clearly not an Obama supporter, but a right wing caricature. I thought the film had a political agenda, until you see the family he marries into. Although they have an unhealthy relationship with guns and God, they are hospitable and loving people toward Mason and his children. He also gets rid of his Pontiac for a family sized car, much to Mason Jnr’s annoyance, another sign of responsibility.
Not forgetting Samantha, Mason Jnr’s older sister, she grows from cheeky young lady into a high achiever at school and a positive influence on Mason as she goes to College. There is a realistic dynamic between her and Mason throughout, how they engage in conflict and how they never admit that they love or care about each other, but really they do.
All these events, especially the negative events do not seem to have a long term effect on Mason Jnr. Coming from a broken home, it shows that having good influence from his parents who are not necessarily together can surpass the negative, aggressive macho influence which Olivia brought into Mason’s life. Mason Snr had a certain degree of that view with his statement during a tenpin bowling game ‘Life don’t give you bumpers’, but was more balanced as he chose not to squander his life away to alcohol dependence and was never overly aggressive towards his children. Later in the film, Mason Snr gives his son a compilation of various songs from each member of the Beatles solo career. The point he makes is if you combine the different elements and messages of each solo career, you hear the Beatles. This to me is Mason teaching his son to embrace all points of view and to be open minded to live a fully rounded life.
This film is a staggering achievement by Linklater. This kind of concept has been attempted before but unfinished and abandoned in the past. Linklater is the first to make a film over this long period of time and he has done it very effectively. He managed to get excellent performances from the whole cast who interact with each other brilliantly, creating these very believable and realistic characters.
Linklater is not interested in dramatic contrivance or story arcs. The only dramatic part of the film was the segment involving increasingly drunk and abusive Bill Welbrock. What Linklater is more interested in is passing moments, some which shaped Mason as a person and some scenes that are seemingly normal events in a child’s life. I found one or two scenes a little pointless as there were some threads that are not explored more or ever returned to.
I think the general message of the film is trying to highlight male aggression and dominance in American culture and how it effects each generation negatively, but not always. Olivia’s partners seem negatively effected by these social pressures, as are some of Mason Jnr’s friends who boast about the women they slept with etc.
Despite the films minor flaws, it is a bold and ambitious film which takes you on an epic journey of the life of a family.

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