An Overly Personal Review of “Boyhood”

I know I talk pretty tough on this site, but the fact of the matter is that I am going to die one day. It’s something I’ve become more acutely aware of since I became a parent.

Like the crushing realisation that 1994 was 20 years ago (20 years!), watching my four-year-old son run and play, revelling in his carefree salad days and blatantly rubbing his youth in my face, the crushing weight of my age descends upon me… smothering me… laughing at me!

Of course, it’s not just parenthood that makes me feel old. I also feel decrepit every time I run for the train, open a door too fast or click on a link that promises me I won’t believe what happened next.

(Turns out, not only did I believe what happened next, I also didn’t care for it that much.)

Boyhood is a great movie

And then there’s Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, which I saw at the Sydney Film Festival. (It’s scheduled for wide release in Australia on September 4.)

I can’t remember being so simultaneously overwhelmed by the inevitability of death and the preciousness of life over the course of one movie.

By now you’ve heard about what at first appears to be a gimmick, or, at the very least, the movie’s main selling point. Writer/director Linklater shot the same actors 3 days at a time annually over 12 years and put it all together for a 165-minute coming of age story like no other.

Critics have referred to it as ‘like a knife in your heart’, ‘mesmerising’, astonishing’, ‘one of the great films of the decade’ and full of ‘profuse pleasures’.

And they aren’t kidding.

This movie is amazing.

The only thing comparable might be the Up Series, another bit of gut-wrenching brilliance that checks in with the same group of British kids every seven years. But those are eight movies.

The fear sets in…

As Boyhood periodically leaps forward, ageing the principal actors accordingly, we pick up with Mason (Ellar Coltrane) not at coming of age movie cliché points – losing his virginity, wrecking his first car, gaining back his virginity, etc. – but in the seemingly meaningless moments that make up a life.

It’s inspiring to watch people go about their business, succeed and fail to the degree that people usually do – not spectacularly, but by shades – and end up all right.

At the same time, what is very clear is that all of these people are dying. It is startling and a little bit upsetting to see people actually age 12 years in roughly two hours. Do you ever have moments where you notice yourself in the mirror and, while appearing perfectly calm, scream at yourself on the inside: “IS THAT MY FACE? MY BODY? WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME? AAAAAAGHHHHH!”?

This movie is like that… over and over again.

Dear God… where is the time going?

As a parent, children provide an easy way to look at your life and think, “This is going too fast and I’m going nowhere even faster. I’m a loser. Someone, please help me.”

Take a day, any day, and look at your four-year-old child. Just the other day, he was a tiny thing capable of absolutely nothing. Zero. And now he’s walking around and talking and feeding himself and learning at an exponential rate. That’s step one.

Step two is: Look at yourself. What have you done in all this time? How has life changed?

Sure, maybe you started a website and you post more pictures on social media, but what else? Okay, maybe your relationship with your lady friend is more challenged than it used to be. There’s more pressure to “keep the spark” and have official date nights, which takes a lot of the fun out of going out because it’s such a huge production.

And maybe your physical health has declined. Sure, you’ve tried those diets that you’ve heard people talk about and you’re blasting your pecs like there’s no tomorrow, but your fitness is not quite there, is it.

There’s a hunger inside you…

And not only does that decreased metabolism prevent you from being in the shape you want to be – that you DESERVE to be – you also have the sudden urge to eat anything and everything in sight. Those Tim Tams you never cared about? You need to eat all of them. That ice cream flavour that’s always been there but isn’t really your thing and your lady friend buys it because you won’t eat it? You’re eating it. The frozen chicken tenders you make for the boy because he won’t eat anything else because his tastes are as bland as the neighbourhood you moved into? You are eating that. You just are.

Not too impressive.

But even if you have been up to some awesome stuff, what are you trying to say? That you’re better than the rest of us? Get outta here!

Whether you’re having a ball or struggling, time is passing and it will soon turn us all to dust.

All we’ve got is time

And yet life is also long. Really long. There are so many more experiences my son has yet to have and I have yet to have with him. And Boyhood gave me a glimpse of that journey. His parents are part of it, but they’re on the periphery. He really does it alone.

I thought of the journey my son has yet to take, with and without me, and my heart ached for him.

Will I be there for him? Will I, like Mason’s Dad (Ethan Hawke), have done my best? Will I appreciate the life we’ve shared together when he becomes a man? Will I have taken anything for granted? Will our time together have mattered to each other and to others?

It’s exhausting to think about this kind of thing on a day-to-day basis. But Boyhood gathers it all together and wraps you up in it.

Go see it.



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