In a film that was 12 years in the making, we explore the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), a five year old boy who lives with his older sister Samantha (played by the director’s very own daughter, Lorelei Linklater) with their single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette). We then proceed to chronicle this young boy’s life until he turns 18 years old, delving into his relationship with his father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) and capturing the very essence of childhood, and the maturation process. With all characters constant, Boyhood is a film that was shot each and every year to complete what has been an audacious endeavour for Linklater.
The film opens with Mason, lying on his back and staring out at the clouds. With a fashion sense reminiscent of the turn of that at the turn of the millennium (with a haircut to match) – and a seemingly lower definition picture quality, while Coldplay’s Yellow can be heard, the time and setting has been made evident instantaneously, and we never once lose sight of the respective years’ depicted. The implementation of defining musical choices and an astute, entirely uncontrived portrayal of the characters ages and state of society, remains present throughout. As this film was shot across the past 12 years, the way we see technology improve, from Gameboy’s to iPhones, and to see the changing face of America, with Obama at the helm, it never feels artificial or overtly demonstrative, as Linklater presents this tale without hindsight.
The editing is also completely seamless, as this isn’t episodic, and Mason grows older with a natural fluency, and it’s so subtle. Every now and again you’ll notice a different haircut, or a deepening in his voice – or perhaps Hawke’s ever-increasing moustache, to know that we’ve progressed in time. The cinematography – unusually left in the hands of two people – also remains consistent throughout, and it never feels in the later stages as though we’re watching a different movie, or that the image quality has improved. Another consistency are the fine acting performances. Newcomer Coltrane (well, sort of), completely shines as the absorbing lead role, as the perfect entry point into this tale. He’s not overstated or exaggerated for cinematic effect, as we merely see the world from his perspective. Arquette is also wonderful, again capturing those subtle differences to her demeanour with every passing year, as she too has her own character arc. The same can be said of every single character in the title, as it’s not just Mason’s journey that compels us, as we see his young sister become a woman, and his dad too discovering his own path in life.
Linklater ensures that naturalism remains prevalent throughout, as he can’t be accused of using up his artistic licence to be dramatic for the mere sake of it. Boyhood is simply a study of life and society, while exploring childhood and the momentous, consequential years we all face as we become adults. This is a quite remarkable piece of cinema, and a coming-of-age tale that is so incredibly poignant and emotional, and yet so funny and profound. To use the word masterpiece may seem somewhat flippant, but in this instance, it’s about as fitting a word as you could wish to use.