A Survey Course on Growing Up: Richard Linklater’s Boyhood


The many faces of Mason (Ellar Coltrane)

In the Hollywood movie scene dominated by SFX filled action films, stale thrillers, and recycled romances, there is occasionally  a nugget of gold that resonates with cinema snobs like me and . This summer’s hands down “people’s champ” is Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. A film where plot twists resonate more because of their realness than because of surprise, and many a stock character you’ve  seen in other “realistic” films comes off as original. By keeping it close to the hippocampus while dancing with the heart, Linklater’s Boyhood is a survey course done right: We get the essence and experience fills in the rest.

This isn’t a heady review: I’m sure tons of film critics have torn Linklater a new heart hole so he can take on their own (the film is universally acclaimed), but I’d like to just spend some time reflecting on the magic of a movie that older folks and younger ones experience completely differently. What does an older person say when they see a 9-10 year old Mason playing capture the flag (Halo)?? I fall back into my own memories of the game (one I adopted after all of my friends). What could they really be thinking when they see him holding a Gamboy Advanced SP? Does a 7 year old Samantha singing “Oops I Did It Again” really resonate the same way? (We all laughed of course, but there’s definitely a difference)

Mason with a Gameboy Advanced SP

In all honesty, this is probably the most difficult review/reflection I’ve written yet. How do you begin to get at a story that while so uniquely applicable to your own life also seems to resonate deeply with different generations? For me, a single mother killing herself (figuratively) to make sure her children are okay is reality. Awkward encounters with a father, aren’t so much. Neither are a string of relationships compromising the one between mother and son (or daughter), but I feel it.

There’s something about the episodic nature of real life that once replicated on the silver screen, just becomes more real. The minutiae of my own life transfigure in order to interlock with the ones of the characters before me. Not even the hilarity of the truest American birthday presents (a suit, a shotgon, and a bible) could shake the bonds. And maybe that’s the magic of Boyhood.

Graduation Day, in the film world this would be high school class of 2013 (or something like that)

In college the term survey course is often a negative. It means that in the span of 15 weeks you’ll be learning about fifteen + different topics that warrant their own courses and dissertations. One leaves the class feeling extremely informed, but also more clueless then when you began. But in the case of Boyhood, we’re all phD’s in our American lives (unless you’re a kid and even then parts of this movie should relate), and this survey course is a reminder of how much we’ve learned and lived.

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