Sundance 2014: Linklater's 'Boyhood' a Sublime, Grand Achievement
by Alex Billington
January 20, 2014
Richard Linklater's time capsule has been opened. For the last 12 years, director Richard Linklater (who brought Before Midnight to Sundance last year) has been quietly filming an ambitious project chronicling the life of a young boy growing up in Texas. The project, now complete after 12 years, is titled Boyhood and follows Ellar Coltrane as Mason, from age 6 to age 18, most of his youth, up until graduation and his departure to college. It's a grand, beautiful, intimate essay on growing up, without spending too much time on the big milestones, and instead focusing on one of the most important values of life: seize the moment.
Linklater's Boyhood, while on paper sounds similar to Malick's Tree of Life, isn't anything like that film and can't really be compared. Instead, it's a more lightweight story without much turbulence that chronicles what it's like to grow up in the 2000s in Texas; it's a sublime experience to sit through. The film progresses seamlessly between ages as one extended narrative that feels similar to Linklater's Slacker or the Before series rather than a sweeping epic, like we would expect from Malick (another Texas-based filmmaker). It doesn't show the milestones as much as it shows the moments inbetween, a few memorable instances, and most importantly the time he spends with his separated father and mother, played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, both of whom also filmed for 12 years and age in the film the same as everyone else.
Thinking back over the nearly three hours of Boyhood is like thinking back over your own youth, it's hard to grasp and comprehend just how much time has passed and just how much one has grown. The emotions hit me hard a few times. I don't think I've ever come to know one character, a person, as intimately and as completely as I have watching Boyhood. I didn't want it to end, I didn't want to leave this story behind, I wanted to follow him for the rest of his life, watching as all the influences and moments in his life lead him down different paths, as he becomes a man and pursues the passions he discovered when he was younger. It's a refreshing, hopeful, and deeply reflective look at how human beings grow up in today's day and age.
More than anything, Boyhood is an extraordinary achievement in storytelling and filmmaking, a masterful cinematic creation unlike any other. To be able to follow and film the same cast for 12 years, and to be able to build a seamless narrative around them, without actually scripting an entire story from the start (letting it follow Ellar wherever he went), is beyond impressive. It's the work of a true master, and it really shows in the way Linklater captures wonderful scenes of discourse and discovery similar to those in the Before series, but this time following a boy and his "boyhood", his youth, his first loves, his first beers. However, if there is anything I can be critical of, it's that there is never any specific revelatory moment about life, instead we just see pieces of his youth, small conversations, and never the grand "this is it" scene. But that doesn't matter.
Due in part to the scope of Richard Linklater's ambition, and the way he pulled together such a seamless narrative across so many years, Boyhood is the kind of film that will grow deeper with time. Waking up in the morning after the late night premiere has given me a fresh perspective and new insight, and the more I discuss the film with colleagues, the more I learn about it, and maybe about myself, too. It's the kind of film that makes us think as much about ourselves as the characters we see, as much about the world we live in as the world that Linklater captures. And I am incredibly grateful to be able to revel in this experience of life.
Alex's Sundance 2014 Rating: 9 out of 10
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