This afternoon, this 47-year-old father of a 2-year-old (okay, he's closer to 3) looked back at various pasts and into the future as I occupied the back row of cinema 6 for Richard Linklater's Boyhood.
There were maybe a dozen viewers in total, all adult and probably a decent turn-out for the time of day. Given Linklater's reputation for pushing the envelope on the narrative of his films with the Before series he has done with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy and by adapting the non-fiction book Fast-Food Nation into a feature picture rather than a documentary, the notion of him taking 12 years to make a coming of age picture does not come as a complete surprise or a viewing experience that would lack reward. As the film moved from limited release to gradually wider release this past weekend, I was eager to take it in before it slipped away from the local screens.
From the moment Eller Coltrane's Mason begins dialogue with his mother, played by Patricia Arquette, as the two drive home from school and discuss his homework, it is clear that Linklater cast the lead role brilliantly, if not perfectly. Coltrane's performance from these opening moments one that is unguarded and nuanced with a realism that throughout the movie that left me feeling more like a bug on a neighbour's wall rather than a popcorn-eater in the dark. The movie was a constant invitation to meditate on the era that has just passed, my own youth and look ahead to the rites of passage that my son will go through and lead me through as the years ahead fly by all too quickly. There were occasions throughout the movie, where I reflected on my own experiences dealing with peer pressure and as a parent think of how precarious a situation may unfold if my son does not have the sense of direction and moment that Mason had in most instances.
The drama in the movie was realistic and did not resort to more substantial traumas that might unbalance other characters in other stories and leave them scrambling to rediscover equilibrium by the end. Instead, the audience is asked to follow the path and thoughts of the quiet, thoughtful dreamer splayed on the lawn in the first shot and grapple with the ever-lingering question, "What do you want to do?" It is not an unfamiliar question but the story of Mason's growth is presented with such a degree of intimacy that the characters feel familiar in ways that they do not when the drama is more contrived to suit formula. There are dramatic elements on the home front throughout the movie: changes of homes, careening marriages and the trouble that kids find their way into when they are finding their way and testing themselves and their boundaries but the main question that lingers in the audience is the opening one. What is Mason going to grow up to be?
With this film, Richard Linklater has invited the audience to meditate on the gradual growth of his character in a film with novelistic depth. Its poignancy, eye for the era that has passed and for the rites that all boys go through in one way or another resulted in a movie of quiet, confident brilliance. As the story closed on this chapter, I thought about the years that lay ahead for my wife and I until, as Mason's mother put it on the day he leaves home, "The worst day of my life!" This movie is more likely to resonate with me 12 years from now than it may with the boys who lined up for Guardians of the Galaxy (probably the 3D version) but it will be one that I will dust off for my son at a certain moment in our lives to let him know that -- even if he may find himself out of his element at some point in his life -- his experience is a common one and that he'll get through it somehow. Really.