Boyhood is the perfect film for the 20-something zeitgeist.
Or maybe it’s just the perfect film for me.
Not sure there’s much difference in my mind. (I do run a blog called this is youth, after all).
Boyhood is the story of a life. As you’ve probably heard by now, filmmaker Richard Linklater shot the film over the course of twelve years, a few weeks each year. The result is an episodic film that allows the actors to age naturally as the film progresses. This creates an effect that cannot be underestimated or written off as a simple gimmick.
You would be remiss though, to solely attribute Boyhood’s success its unique structure. A victim of its own hype (It currently sits at a 99 percent on RottenTomatoes, and a 100 on Metacritic), many potential viewers are writing this film off as a one-trick pony— a terrible mistake. Boyhood has style, true, but it also has some very deep substance. Boyhood grapples with no less than the meaning of life— more accurately, how we create meaning in our own lives.
The damning thing about Boyhood is that it keeps continuing. With a running time of 2 hours and 40 minutes, the film is by no means concise. I had the opportunity to see Boyhood on a Friday night at the IFC Center in Greenwich Village. I entered the theatre as lines were starting to form outside of bars; people were vomiting on the street when I finally exited.
And yet the film feels so short, in parts. “I thought there would be more,” says Patricia Arquette’s character, crying as she prepares to send her boy off to college. It’s the most gut-wrenching moment in the film, because it rings so true. As the titular character hits the road for college and the end of his boyhood, it’s hard as an audience not to think, “That was it?”
Nothing much happens in Boyhood; at least not in a traditional sense. The three-act narrative is absent. A remedial creative writing teacher would bemoan the lack of a clear beginning, middle, and end. But this is precisely why the film is radiant.
I spent my entire childhood wrapped up in escapism of all sorts: videogames, books, cinema and TV. Media, and stories. Stories have a quiet appeal to a kid who can’t find his place; implicit in their existence is the fact that everything will work itself out eventually.
“Everything will work itself out,” is, strangely enough, a phrase you hate to hear, starting at about your senior year of college. It’s not reassuring, although I’m sure everyone who utters it means it that way. I’ll catch myself using it, when I’m not particularly engaged.
The phrase is so irritating because, at this point in your life, you are beginning to realize that stories are artificial constructions. Your life will not work out the way you thought it would; even if it does, it will keep continuing. Life doesn’t end, not really. It’ll keep going and we’ll always keep thinking that there should have been more.
Boyhood simultaneously affirms and rejects the idea that everything will work itself out in the end. And it’s right.