Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’: 12 Years of Moments

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Movie Poster for Boyhood

The movie, ‘Boyhood’ was filmed over the span of several years, and shows aging without makeup or film tricks. Image courtesy of IFC Films, all rights reserved.

In this nearly three-hour film, no one decisive moment stands out, but a series of pleasant and unpleasant experiences that comprise one boy’s childhood, create a singular cinematic experience.

A 164-minute fictional drama where actors virtually age before our eyes, Boyhood features two children emerging from childhood to young adulthood, and two adults progressing into middle age – all without the benefit of prosthetics or special effects.

Shot in Texas over 12 years with the same cast, director Richard Linklater (Before Midnight) outlined his unique story and sometimes wrote the script shortly before each of the three-to-four-day shoots scheduled each year.

The Committed Cast of Boyhood

Four actors signed on for the entire 12-year process that follows six-year-old Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) and his family as they navigate divorce, remarriage, blended families, moves, new schools, sibling rivalry, control freaks, emotional abuse, first love, and college preparation during a dozen tumultuous years.

  • Patricia Arquette stars as Mason’s mother, Olivia, who’s sometimes weak and helpless, sometimes strong and independent, but always a loving mother as she goes through her own journey.
  • Lorelei Linklater (the director’s daughter) plays his older sister, Samantha, an outspoken extrovert who balances her brother’s quieter introvert.
  • Ethan Hawke portrays his often-irresponsible father, Mason Sr., who struggles to communicate with his children while lacking the appropriate skills.
  • Mason Sr. can express himself through music, but has difficulty talking without a guitar in his hands. Although gifted with a better ability to communicate, Mason Jr. grows up to enjoy photography, a fine fit for his tendency to observe life and process what he sees.
Ellar Coltrane stars in Boyhood

Ellar Coltrane stars in ‘Boyhood.’ Image courtesy of IFC Films, all rights reserved.

An Amazing Time Capsule

The film has plenty of dialogue and small moments, such as Mason acknowledging to his mother that he “partied” a little with his friends or a heartfelt pep talk from his high school photography teacher. (The party scene helped earn this film an R-rating).

The highly dramatic occurrences are memorable for their scarcity, as well as their emotional impact on Mason. However, it’s the overall effect that’s so powerful here; the oddly shaped bits and pieces that form the collage of one boy’s life.

When filmmakers set movies in the past, costume designers, set designers, and other craftspeople research every imaginable aspect needed to accurately recreate the time period. Boyhood presents a true time capsule in which television footage, clothing, hair styles, music, movies, books, games, cars, politics, technology, and trends depict the times. Enhancing the story, rather than intruding upon it, these pop culture flashbacks are even more enjoyable because of their authenticity.

Audiences watch Mason grow physically and emotionally through life’s stages while learning which moments to embrace and which to discard. To a lesser extent, it’s also the story of Olivia, who reaches her own milestones through the years. Told with compassion, Boyhood does not limit itself to one boy’s story or even the specific years between 2002 and 2014. Although securely set in its time and place, the story expands beyond those restraints to display the monumental changes, development, and evolution possible over a 12-year period.

Ellar Coltrane in a scene from Boyhood

Here’s an older Ellar Coltrane in a scene from Boyhood. Image courtesy of IFC Films, all rights reserved.

12 Years

Linklater’s Boyhood was originally known as “The Untitled 12 Year Project” with later plans to title the film “12 Years.” However, the 2013 release of 12 Years a Slave forced Linklater to change the name of his film to avoid confusion.

Regardless of name changes, Boyhood remains the first of its kind – a fictional story told with the same actors over time. The ongoing “Up Series” documentaries, which focus on the same fourteen British children every seven years, have the same concept of following people’s physical and personal development over time, but their purpose and presentation differ greatly from Linklater’s creation.

The dedication of the filmmaker and actors has not gone unnoticed. The film has won numerous awards so far this year, including: Silver Bear Best Director Recipient (2014 Berlin International Film Festival); Louis Black “Lone Star” Award Recipient (2014 SXSW Film Festival); Founder’s Directing Award Recipient (2014 San Francisco International Film Festival); and Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress (Patricia Arquette) Recipient (2014 Seattle International Film Festival).

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