Timely liberation

Boyhood  Rated M. Release date: 4 September 2014. Director: Richard Linklater. Running time 165 minutes.

Richard Linklater is not a director who is big on plot. His first film, Slacker, drifted from oddball to oddball wandering the streets of Austin, Texas; his breakthrough film Dazed and Confused looked at one night in the lives of a group of graduating high school students in the 1970s; and his 'Before' trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight) has been a trilogy of snapshots of a relationship taken at nine year intervals.

So if anyone could successfully put together a film that was shot over 12 years following a five-year old boy as he grows into an 18-year old man, he'd be pretty close to the top of the list.

Linklater brought his cast together to film for a week each year, using a script that was largely improvised. Aside from Ellar Coltrane as Mason, the only other regulars across the years were Patricia Arquette (as Mason's mother), Ethan Hawke (as his father) and Richard Linklater's daughter Lorelei as Mason's sister Samantha, who steals the show early on with some astoundingly bratty but hilarious behaviour. Unsurprisingly considering the challenges of filming this way – while there are numerous supporting characters, they largely tend to appear only for a segment or two – there isn't a lot of ongoing drama.

The story begins with Mason and his sister living with their mother in suburban Texas, his parents having already separated. While both parents are free spirits to some extent, it's clear that Dad wasn't cut out to be a dad. As the years pass there are occasional stepfathers who tend to go bad (drinking is not a good sign), we see Mason go through some of the traditional milestones while others are implied, and while not everything always turns out for the best, this isn't a film where the stakes are high in any traditional sense.

Instead, this gains its power from the sheer passage of time on the screen during its 165 minutes. Again, there are no big dramatic upheavals during the period this covers (Harry Potter becomes a thing; Dad is not a George W Bush fan) but the weight of years gradually presses down on everyone here.

For Mason, it is a liberation. He grows up before our eyes, the dreamy kid of five becoming a decent, thoughtful, stable adult that at the film's end is set free to go his own way in life.

For his parents, the years work a different magic. His father settles down and becomes a solid citizen, giving up his dreams but making his peace with the man he has become. His mother has a rougher ride, and while she is often a background figure holding the family together, she has a scene towards the end where she reveals the price she paid and how little she gained. It is heartrending.

Time builds us up then tears us down. The beauty of Boyhood is that it shows us the magic in the changes we all go through, the little differences that stack up into a life.


Anthony MorrisAnthony Morris is the current DVD editor of The Big Issue. He writes about film and television for various publications, including Geelong street paper Forte and Empire magazine, as well as The Vine and The Wheeler Centre website.

Topic tags: Anthony Morris, Boyhood, film review, Richard Linklater



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