At The Omniplex: ‘Boyhood’

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by John Lyons

IN 2002, director Richard Linklater cast a six-year-old boy to star alongside Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette in his new film.

That year he got all the actors together for a week and shot the first ten minutes of the film. A year later he gathered up his actors once again and shot the next ten minutes. The following year he returned and shot the next ten minutes, and so on.

In total, Linklater shot small segments of the film every year for twelve consecutive years.

The resulting film – ‘Boyhood’ – chronicles the young life of its main character, Mason, as we follow him from the age of six all the way to his first day at college.

Richard Linklater is no stranger to experimenting with time in his films (see The ‘Before’ Series, for instance), but he’s never quite attempted anything this ambitious.

In fact, nobody has. The Antoine Doinel films and the ‘7-up’ series have revisited their characters over the years, but I’m fairly certain that we’ve never had the opportunity to watch someone literally grow up on screen over the course of two hours.

The closest thing I can think of is ‘Hoop Dreams’, but that was a documentary. This, by contrast, is pure fiction.

The 12-year aspect of Boyhood is what’s selling tickets for the film, but as I sat down to watch the film I began to realise that I didn’t know what the film was actually about.

Turns out, there isn’t really a story at all. But that’s okay, because some of Linklater’s films in the past have had no real story, but they still worked perfectly – like ‘Slacker’, ‘Dazed & Confused’, and the ‘Before’ series.

Boyhood celebrates both the big and small moments of growing up. The highs and lows. Moments of complete certainty coupled with moments of confusion and frustration.

Mason is a six-year-old boy living with his older sister Samantha and his single mother, Olivia (played by Patricia Arquette). Olivia is struggling to keep the family afloat, and her constant poor choices of boyfriends and husbands aren’t helping matters.

Mason and Samantha’s biological father, Mason Sr. (played by Ethan Hawke), drops by sporadically to give the kids a ‘cool adult’ to hang out with, and talk to them honestly about school, friends, family, and growing-up in general. Yet he’s never present when he’s needed most.

While adolescence is definitely a central part of the film, growing up and adolescence are not necessarily the same thing. Mason Sr. and Olivia both grow and change drastically in their own right over the course of the twelve years.

Linklater delicately and subtly demonstrates the passage of time by using music that was popular at each given year, conversations about pop culture, and current political topics.

The novelty of watching someone grow up on-screen wears off pretty fast, and that’s not a bad thing. The characters, their lives and their hardships are so rich that I got swept away in the quiet drama of it all, and simply got used to the fact that everyone was ageing.

It just became another component of the film.

Richard Linklater has been my favourite modern filmmaker for the last number of years, for three very important reasons:

1. He always has something that he’s trying to communicate through his films.
2. His films are incredibly personal.
3. Most importantly, he’s always trying to do something new.

‘Boyhood’ is the culmination of all these things. Linklater has constructed a film that encapsulates a childhood and adolescence which is based on his own life, and he’s managed to do it in a way that’s never been done before.

‘Boyhood’ is truly one of a kind. It’s an important film, a film that needs to be seen, and certainly a film that I’ll be revisiting in the years to come.

Expect ‘Boyhood’ to be present at the Oscars next year, and don’t be surprised if Richard Linklater graces the stage to pick up his first Best Director Oscar.


‘Boyhood’ is currently playing at Tralee Omniplex.

Follow John Lyons on Twitter: @Fireinthelyons

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