3 Stars – Thought-Provoking
Only an independent filmmaker like Richard Linklater would embark on a twelve-year project like Boyhood. Directing and writing this fictional story while using the same actors over this span of time, Linklater brings together the cast to film a story of the boyhood journey of Mason (Ellar Contrane) as he grows from age six to eighteen. Also documented in this novel film is the development of his own daughter, Lorelei Linklater, who plays Mason’s older sister Samantha.
Known for portraying realistic and uncompromising representations of humanity, Linklater creates in this film a work that is a clear testimony of the claims he places within his characters’ mouths that life has little purpose or meaning. Though most would disagree with his message from both our own experience as well as our religious faith, no one would argue that a person’s childhood is impacted by both joy and sorrow caused by the parents whose responsibility it is to raise them to adulthood. In this instance, Mason’s mother, played by Patricia Arquette, is a single mom whose desperation leads her from marriage to marriage with men whose alcohol addiction and personal issues bring danger and sorrow into his life. In similar ways, Mason’s father, played by Ethan Hawke, is partying rather than parenting and comes into his life on weekend visits more as an older friend than as a competent father.
Locating his film in his home state of Texas, Linklater understands the culture and gives the viewers ample cues to know what year we are watching in addition to the aging of the actors. This is most obvious as we watch Mason move from playing GameBoy to Xbox to more recent computer games. We also see it in the fashion, cars, sports and world events that serve as the background to the action in the film. The effect of these subtle cues is that they allow viewers to experience the years as though we are participating in the film rather than merely observing it.
Though maturation occurs in everyone’s lives, the lack of wisdom in these parents, and thus their inability to provide the guidance their children need to gain wisdom, is painful to watch. There is no community of people with whom the family journeys through life and the attempts by a grandparent and a friend to provide support are inadequate to meet the need. For those of us who live in community with others who share faith and life experiences, we see the isolation and pain this boy experiences throughout his boyhood as unnecessary and damaging. This is seen particularly in the final scene as Mason ventures into the wilderness where his new college friends not only provide drugs but also suggest that it is not we who seize the moment, but it is the moments of our lives that seize us. That is a philosophy that leaves us foolish rather than wise. Perhaps that is the lesson Linklater wants us to experience and, if so, he does it well. However, it is ultimately a message that nothing really matters and so life is devoid of both meaning and hope.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
- If your childhood was chaotic and damaged by alcohol addiction, how did you find healing? Where did you find safety and support, and with whom?
- What do you think grandparents, aunts and uncles or other extended family can do to provide more stable “boyhoods” or “childhoods” for all children? Who was important in your own development and how did they help you?
- The joy represented by the parents of Mason’s step-mother Mindy (Jamie Howard) is shown as coming from their faith and belief in Biblical wisdom and worship in their church community. Why do you think Mason and his sister did not pursue this wisdom? How has the Bible and church impacted your own life?