So here it is, that precious moment you have all been waiting for with bated breath – welcome to One Room With A View’s Number 1 film of 2014; welcome to Richard Linklater’s masterpiece; welcome to Boyhood.
Picture the scene: it is the summer of 2002 and Richard Linklater, American filmmaking auteur and indie darling, is in pre-production on a film that will occupy his summer holidays for more than a decade. 12 years – which was, incidentally, the film’s original title – is, in production terms, one hell of a long time; for those of a certain age or younger, 12 years is in fact an almost unfathomable amount of time. Let us take a brief moment to place Boyhood‘s 12 years into perspective; here are just a few things to remind you of the way the world looked back in 2002:
- The war in Afghanistan was months old.
- Kelly Clarkson was crowned the very first winner of American Idol.
- Brazil beat Germany to win the 2002 World Cup hosted by South Korea and Japan.
- A Beautiful Mind won Best Picture at the 2002 Oscars.
- The generation’s defining trilogy had just one film to its name; something to do with a ring…
- Linklater’s own trilogy, the universally-adored Before films was, in 2002, a singular film; Before Sunrise was released in 1995, Before Sunset was released in 2004, and Before Midnight was released just last year.
- And, finally, the world’s most famous boy wizard had only four of seven books to his name and just one cinematic outing for his ludicrously successful ongoing quest against the trials of puberty and evil.
It is particularly useful to end on that final recollection in relation to Linklater’s film, which is a remarkably sensitive ode to life and the passage of time that fills its viewer with warm, balanced, and certainly not sugary, nostalgia. Not only do the releases of Harry Potter’s various novels and films place Boyhood‘s timeline into a relatable perspective – Olivia and Bill’s families attend a launch event for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in 2005 – it serves as an entry point into understanding the film’s universal appeal: Boyhood is never less than a warm hug of a film that captures the fragile, transitory moments of a life in the making – that warm feeling that passes over and through you as you watch Boyhood, do you know what that is? That is an affirmation that all life is here; few films can lay claim to that.
The film bears the markings of a confessional poem; it is appropriately distant yet fiercely intimate, an elegy that welds together small moments of tremendous power – the dawning realisation that Mason’s father is not the idol he imagined he was will resonate for many, as will the snapshots of his mother’s various relationships seen through the eyes of a child who understands adults in splashes of bright colour but lacks the maturity to appreciate the nuances of the emotional spectrum. These moments are bolstered by career-best performances from the entire cast: from seasoned actors such as Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke to newcomers Ellar Coltrane and Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei, the cast is never less than exceptional, proving to be the paint that grants life to Linklater’s epic tapestry.
Despite Boyhood‘s tremendously lengthy production, it would be fair to argue that when it did finally arrive, it almost appeared out of nowhere. Sure, some followers of film might have heard whiffs of its existence here and there, and ardent fans of Linklater’s work might well recall an occasional interview in which the director discusses Boyhood at a distance. The film arrived quietly before a world that was perhaps a little unprepared for what they were going to see – the film retains an unbelievable 100/100 Metacritic rating. For as much as Linklater’s film is the product of many years of hard work, it is also unobtrusive, patient, assured, and bears the hallmarks of its semi-improvised method; its beguiling authenticity is indebted to the fact that moments are born in real time, often without more than sketches of ideas as opposed to a heavily deliberated shooting script. As such Linklater abolishes the pretence of performance and gifts his audience real, flesh-and-blood individuals rather than characters whose fictitiousness is evident in their nature; to this end Boyhood might be called the greatest amateur film ever made.
While Boyhood will undoubtedly be remembered as Linklater’s greatest work, it is worth noting that Linklater has been teasing us with great cinema for two decades. Return to his first masterpiece, 1993’s Dazed and Confused, the definitive slacker movie, and you will witness the seeds of Boyhood’s success; both films exhibit moments of exquisite social observation, are laden with memorable and loveable characters experiencing life, love, and everything else, and, of course, both boast tremendous soundtracks. Of course, much has been written on Linklater’s Before trilogy for it is, without question, a towering achievement that is both similar and altogether different to Boyhood; the Before films are poetic collages, intimate reflections on the flickering moments of lives in rehearsal, whereas Boyhood is something greater, an epic, incandescent warts-and-all entanglement with life itself. With other great films to his name such as Waking Life, School of Rock, and A Scanner Darkly, Linklater has been making quiet claims as a truly exceptional and fiercely innovative filmmaker.
2014 has, without question, been a year for eclectic heroes and troublesome villains, yet Boyhood never undermines the authenticity of its tale by consigning its players to such crudely realised boxes. In fact, one might argue that 2014 was a year in which characters broke free from genre tropes, a year for multidimensional creations whose individual nuances and complexities were not undermined by the film that surrounded them. A cursory look through some of 2014’s great films might lead one to consider the likes of Solomon Northup (12 Years a Slave), Star Lord (Guardians of the Galaxy), and Cooper (Interstellar) in relation to Jordan Belfort (The Wolf of Wall Street), the Female (Under the Skin), or Eric Love (Starred Up); throw into the question the likes of Inside Llewyn Davis’ titular character and suddenly the spectrum opens up, proving this to be a stellar year for intricate and elaborate character work. So how do Mason, his family, and his various acquaintances correspond with the above? The easy answer is they don’t – such are Linklater’s powers to create a wholly believable world that transcends genre conventions. There are no heroes or villains here, only individuals stepping clumsily along the twisted paths of life, paths that converge in moments, separate, intertwine, and return.
The closing moments of the film compound this sentiment that all life is here: Mason and his friends hike through Big Bend National Park to pontificate before and between the sun-bleached hills, ending Linklater’s film with an ellipsis as opposed to a fully-formed resolution. Shimmering in the haze of the Texan landscape, we finally see that Linklater is holding up a microcosmic mirror to us all; as Mason ultimately tells Nicole that “the moment seizes us all”, despite their amusing and familiar pretensions, we cannot help but agree: this is their moment, but it is also ours, as it is, finally, Linklater’s – in a small moment of colossal power, exquisitely photographed in the bewitching North American wilderness, Linklater’s vision comes full circle and his masterpiece is complete. Boyhood‘s often timeless beauty lies in the fact that small pieces and fragments of ourselves are etched into each and every wonderful frame; these stories are our own for we are there, parenthetical ghosts in Linklater’s machine, accidental characters in his supreme vision of life.
It is worth taking a moment to reflect on just how brilliant a year for cinema this has been; it has been a year of true quality that has produced a handful of contemporary masterpieces – for more on these, make your way over to the rest of ORWAV’s top 20 films of 2014. Linklater’s victory here, and his victory in various other end-of-year lists, is a testament to Boyhood‘s supreme quality; not only has Boyhood beaten great films from the likes of the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, the film, shot on a budget of around $200,000 per year, marks a real triumph for independent filmmaking, a triumph that will be amplified if (read: when) Richard Linklater wins Best Picture in 2015.
Welcome to the best of a tremendous year; this is film; this is life; this is Boyhood.