To truly appreciate the magnitude of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, one thing has to be understood: this is a film 12 years in the making. While this has been the backbone of the marketing campaign for the film, the true weight of its implications can only be fully understood as the film evolves before your eyes. And “evolves” is the word to use. It is organic, moving along just like life, with peaks and valleys and a never-ending forward momentum. It is a film about change and growth and time in a more profound way than any film before it. Boyhood blurs the lines between fact and fiction as the actors age in real time as well as screen time. Linklater also works in a very collaborative manner, meaning the characters onscreen begin to mesh with the personalities of the actors themselves as they change and grow. It’s difficult to not be stunned at the sheer magnitude of what Linklater has achieved.
There is a deeply nostalgic quality to Boyhood. The film is a perfect microcosm of childhood. The details might change, but the trajectory and experiences remain the same. The sense of curiosity and wonder when everything was new, the desperation to grow up, the disappointment when you discover adults don’t have all the answers, the constant squabbling between siblings to see just how far another person can be pushed before they push back, the awkwardness of trying to fit in, the pain of rejection and the surprise when people actually accept you. It is a reminder of what was so amazing about being a kid and growing up and why you are glad childhood is over. Time in a bottle.
When Mason says he doesn’t talk much “because words are stupid,” he’s onto something. It’s not that words are stupid, but they are finite, restrained by definitions and customs. It is not possible to fully express existence in such a restrictive form. It is something that must be experienced and shared through images and sound and movement and feeling. And this is the experience of watching Boyhood in a nutshell. These are people who have lived completely different lives than I have, but their lives are still mine. There are no tricks, no shortcuts, no easy fixes. It is joyous and painful. So endlessly vast that sometimes it feels like you will drown under the weight of it. It is messy and wondrous, trivial and the most important thing that there is. Linklater celebrates everything that makes life worth living in a way that is universal, that cuts straight to the core of what it means to be and think and feel. It is an amalgam of experiences, big and small, horrible and amazing and in the end, they all just blend together, time dulling everything as time soldiers on because nothing lasts forever; not the good, not the bad, not us. Just like time, Boyhood never stops to dwell on the past. It continues forward, ever present, past consciousness, beyond what can be explained or dreamt. Life is too big, too strange, too inexplicable to be put into words, and Boyhood doesn’t try. Instead, it just exists.