by Andrew Doscas
It’s not too enough that I find myself touched by a film in a way that really resonates with who I am as a person. When I do have those moments of connectivity to a movie, it’s always in the present tense insofar as the current layout of my life, things like who’s in it, my relationships with those people, and ultimately how I perceive myself. What makes Richard Linklater’s newest film, (and magnum opus) Boyhood so penetrative and insightful is that it reached out to me through the past tense. It didn’t necessarily connect with the person I am now, nor did it parallel life exactly, but it forced me to examine my own childhood and how all the destinations of the past and all of life’s little pit stops have an effect who I am today.
No agent in any other medium has ever ensnared me within the trappings of my own childhood so much as Boyhood. It has the exact same analytical influence on me and how I reminisce on my childhood, as Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs does about my late teenage-early 20s. Even though my life was only marginally similar to that of main character, Mason Evans, his upbringing and the events of his life are somehow universal enough for every boy who grew up in suburbia to understand and empathize with. Boyhood seems so real that at times I felt as if I were watching a documentary. I don’t know of any other movie that so perfectly represents an age group as Boyhood. It provides the most objective and realistic portrayal of suburban childhood.
The real strength of the movie comes from this objectivity; it doesn’t try to make any grand proclamations about childhood, but instead portrays growing up exactly as it is-Neither good nor bad. It’s a series of vignettes, some of positive memories, others of negative experiences, all of which encapsulates the journey through childhood and into adulthood. Anyone who sees Boyhood would be able to either connect, or empathize with at least one of these snapshot examinations of Mason Evans’ life.
It’s my generation that has grown up with the highest rate of divorces in history; it’s my generation that’s seen their parents go back to school; it’s my generation that’s shed light on the very real cruelties of childhood bullying. All of these features are portrayed and examined in Boyhood in the exact same way that a child would experience them-As an observer. If Boyhood has any implicit message, it’s that for the majority of our childhood, we are simply observers in a larger tapestry that we try to fit ourselves into. For Mason he watches his parent’s relationship deteriorate, his mother’s budding educational career (which translates to socio-economic stability), his father’s new family grow, and by the end of the movie, he watches his parents grow old. As much as Mason is the main character, he is very much a spectator in the lives of those around him. His passion is photography; he wants to watch and take pictures of life and put those captured images up for observation for everyone to see. Through the pictures that he takes, he is telling a story of what he’s seen and what he’s experienced.
Being an observer denotes a sense of powerlessness though since it implies that someone is watching and not acting. As Boyhood demonstrates in a wondrously sublime way, there is an innate sense of powerlessness associated with childhood. As much as they’d wish otherwise, Mason and his sister were unable to keep their parents together, and he was powerless to protect his mother from his abusive and alcoholic stepfather, Bill. In one of the most heartbreaking scenes of the entire movie, Mason, his sister, and even their mother were all incapable of taking Bill’s children with them once they walked out on Bill. As much as they wanted to leave with their stepsiblings, there was absolutely nothing they could do about it, so they had to abandon them and leave them in the clutches of a monster. These instances represent a powerlessness when compared to adults.
As Mason gets older that sense of powerlessness shifts to include Mason’s peers. He’s the new kid in at least three schools and as such, is treated like a leper. He’s bullied for absolutely no reason by some punk kid trying to be tough, he’s invited to hang out with some older kids just so they can make fun of him, and finally he’s rendered powerless by his girlfriend Sheena. They breakup once he finds out that she had been cheating on him, something that he was helpless to prevented. Very rarely does Mason have full control or agency over his emotional state of being, and when that’s the case, it becomes all too easy to go through life as an observer, instead of the protagonist in your own life.
The most profound and reflective part of Boyhood, as examination of youth and what it feels like, comes at the end of the movie when Mason’s parents reveal that the sense of powerlessness never really goes away. The older you get, the more you realize that time is the one thing that everyone, child, adult, victim, victimizer, just, and unjust are all powerless against. As Mason’s father reveals, “What’s the point? I mean, I sure as shit don’t know. Neither does anybody else, okay? We’re all just winging it”. He reveals that the sense of control that kids think every adult possess is just a façade. No one has any idea of what they’re doing, they’re just trying to do the best with what they’ve got (Mason’s mom), or they succumb to this sense of eternal powerlessness (Bill). Instead of being controlled by a sense of order, it’s really a sense of chaos that controls us all; everyone is just trying to manage their life around all that chaos. That’s something that you can never tell a child because even if they could comprehend that, it would terrify them, and completely shatter any sense of idealism within them.
As he got older, Mason began to see his parents in a different light. They were no longer “mom” and “dad”, but they became people, people with feelings, people who were imperfect, people just trying to do the best with the hand they were dealt. Your parents are different people when your 24 than they were when you were 7 or 13 or even 18. You start to understand them as people instead of as a title. That’s exactly why Mason’s mothers’ final speech to him is so gut-wrenching. She unloads all of her fears, and stresses, and worries that she’s kept bottled up for years. Amidst a stream of tears she bellows “I just thought there would be more”, a sentiment that any parent can relate to. For his mother, life has just been a series of events, an affiliation of milestones, things more so than feelings. Time runs out for everyone, and when it does, we look back and wish we had more even if we’d just waste that extra time all over again. His father tells him that people are just reacting to life, while his mother tells him that there’ll never be enough time. What they’re both telling him however, is that he has to live.
Boyhood is a movie that is never at any point static. The emotional evolution that the film displays as the years progress from childhood to young adulthood is as natural and seamless as can possibly be. It perfectly captures real life and somehow loses nothing in translating it onto the silver screen. With everything that happens to Mason, and all the life lessons he learns along the way, it ultimately proves that in life, more often than not, it’s the moment that seizes us. We just have to hold on to the feelings that we have and make the most of the time that we’re given.
 The fact that “Suburban War” and “Deep Blue” were used in the film also seem to validate this point.