Director Richard Linklater has oft had a penchant for the slick rite-de-passagist themes which have dominated his cinematic lense for nearly 3 decades now. And while his take on the ‘offbeat existential drama’ often treads a fine line between pathos and wry humour, he has always been conscious of avoiding schmaltzy clichés and saccharine sentimentality in order to pursue an uncompromised auteurs vision of good honest film making – devoid of any bells or whistles.
His 1993 comedy Dazed and Confused is now considered part of the lexicon of coming of age high school dramas, an area in which American Graffiti once held a mirror up to a wide demographic of disaffected youth culture, only to be replaced with the absurdist humour of Linklater’s hilarious take on the perils of excess and the pains of adolescence. Regardless of his perspective on the cyclical nature of everyday life, Linklater has always been keen to perpetuate a rare sense of awe in the simplest of themes. Where Before Sunrise muses on the essence of true love, A Scanner Darkly on the other hand delves deep into the symptoms of intense paranoia, all of which are seen through the neuroses of disenfranchised characters trying to come to terms with their own identity.
His latest project Boyhood, shot over a painstaking period of 12 years, is a labor of love that is able to document the transcendent nature of youth in all its glory, through a unique perspective on the changing environment and relationships faced by its ensemble cast throughout this period. The film segue-ways almost effortlessly between a number of key moments via a selection of poignant snapshots which are fundamental to the development of the characters as they continue to grow in tandem as a family, all the while the youngest member Mason, is the epicentre and main focus of the piece.
From their humble suburban beginnings, single mother Patricia Arquette tries to maintain the right domestic balance and work ethic to raise her 2 young kids, Sam and Mason. This then sets the tone for the emotional ride the family have yet to face as they subsequently overcome a number of trials and tribulations, while working tirelessly towards finding a happy home unit. The obligatory alcoholic step father is a thorn in the side of the young upstart Mason, played brilliantly by debutant Ellar Coltrane, as he comes to terms with his own misgivings about family life, all the while oblivious to the struggles faced by his tenacious Mother. Mason takes solace and inspiration from his estranged Father, Ethan Hawke, whose artistic influence rubs off on the impressionable youngster. Faced with the dilemma of embracing his creative talent for abstract photography, Mason is given a sink or swim ultimatum from a teacher who encourages him to be more disciplined in his artistic approach in an already competitive world.
In a revelatory scene which sees a world weary Mason pontificate on life’s uncertainties as his academic endeavours come to fruition, this would have seemed an otherwise clichéd and pretentious summation of the metaphysical aspects of life had it not been viewed through the eyes of a peyote-soaked social gathering amongst his college peers. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s maxim from The Last Tycoon “There are no second acts in American lives” obviously didn’t anticipate the resilience of the post-modern single mother and her precocious offspring in Linklater’s most ambitious and emotionally rewarding film to date. As the headiest of clichés would have it, Boyhood is a reminder that life is very much about making the most of the journey while paying less mind to the destination, for as William Blake once remarked “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”
Boyhood’s The Black Album
One of the many moments in Boyhood that illustrates the blurring of fiction and reality is the occasion on Mason’s fifteenth birthday. Hawke, as Mason’s non-custodial father—Mason Sr.—presents his son with a mix CD: The Black Album, a compilation of Hawke’s favorite post-Beatles recordings by John, Paul, George and Ringo.