– By Ben Escobar –
If someone were to ask me about my favorite memory of my senior year of high school, the first thing that comes to mind is the life-changing night that I watched the masterpiece by Richard Linklater that is known simply as, Boyhood.
Having not known much about the film, other than its iconic 12-year production using the same cast members in the beginning of the 21st century, I was starved for something new to see. It was in a time where my post-graduation plans were still uncertain, and the concept of saying goodbye to temporary high school friends had not yet occurred to me. I didn’t know if I was going to pursue my burning dream of filmmaking, or if I was going to adhere to my Jordan Belfort-inspired urge to study economics.
However, after some seamless 3 hours, all of the fear, anxiety, and doubt suddenly disappeared. It was as though I had taken a peek into the future, understanding everything that was going to happen as I grew closer to graduation—and further away from my own boyhood.
Flash forward 4 years. I find myself in similar conditions, just 6 months away from my college graduation. I’ve followed through with my dream of filmmaking and found screenwriting to be my favorite creative art form. Yet I still find myself in this limbo of uncertainty—what will I be like in 5 years? Will I still be doing what I love? Who will I be with? Where am I going?
These are the questions that Boyhood answers beautifully. Watching life unfold in the eyes of a 6-year-old all the way until his first day of college, Richard Linklater captures and exhibits the beautiful journey of adolescence not only through the demonstration of characters in a story, but through the passage of time as shown through the aging of actual people. What fascinates me most about Boyhood is that it’s so much more than a mediocre life about a character named Mason. It covers what every story strives for—an artistic depiction of growth and change. It’s as though Linklater blurs the line between the linear narrative storytelling style and the style one might see from an average documentary. What starts as a typical character study on a young boy unexpectedly evolves into a study on time, real people, and the critical moments that we may or may not remember from our own lives.
Some might argue that watching through the tired eyes of Academy Award winner, Patricia Arquette, the film could be called “Motherhood” and work just as well. Yet, the same applies for any other actor in this film—everyone’s lives were changed over the course of the film’s production in their own ways. Marriages, pregnancies, divorces, and even high school graduations. But then why would we focus on Mason of all people? The answer is inspiring.
Linklater has been known to replicate life in his films with documentary realism that very few filmmakers dare to try. Now, while the feat doesn’t sound so difficult on the surface, it’s the struggle of realizing that in order to truly blur the lines between reality and fiction as Linklater does, you must pull from the reality from which you have experienced yourself—you must write with brutal, unfiltered honesty.
The most common assumption about Boyhood is that the story was molded around the lead actor, Ellar Coltrane’s life, as it unfolded over the course of 12 years. However, Linklater has been quick to debunk that theory as he easily explains it to be a retelling of his own adolescence. Yet, the genius of his method is not to simply tell a narrative story that teaches an audience about a character—it’s a method that maintains fragments of time that teach an audience about life and the beauty of growing up. But the interesting thing about these fragments is that they come with no set-up or payoff—they just simply, happen. And such is life.
Upon the extremely emotional climax of the film, it’s interesting to remember what led us to the films centerpiece moments such as Olivia having to say farewell to her son as he leaves for college, the solo drive to college in Mason’s truck as Family of the Year’s “Hero” plays, or even the final scene at Big Bend. These scenes simply just happen, and we as an audience are suddenly forced to come face to face with what we didn’t realize that came so quickly. It feels as though we have spent a lifetime with Mason, yet suddenly it’s time to say goodbye. And before we’ve done so, the film’s final lines resound with such truth—
“You know how everyone’s always saying, ‘Seize the moment’? I’m kinda thinking it’s the other way around. You know, like, the moment seizes us…”
And then immediately, we smash to the credits.
Reality (and tears) hit me like a freight train the night I first experienced this. Aside from the countless moments of Boyhood that were almost too relatable, I found myself finally realizing how much time had passed in my life—17 years, and I still had a long way to go. I was able to see how fleeting and meaningless so many things in my life were. All the queasy memories, the anxieties, the follies of the past… They all mean nothing in comparison to the entirety of life.
There is so much to learn from Linklater and his work in Boyhood and I have never failed to come back with something new every time I re-watch the film. It’s a journey that every person, regardless of their taste in cinema, should undoubtedly embark on. For aspiring filmmakers wanting to make true-to-life dramas, Boyhood (and almost all of Linklater’s films), is a must see. For those simply wanting some place new, but still familiar to escape, Boyhood is the film for you.
As a filmmaker and student at JPCatholic, I find myself constantly coming back to Boyhood as a tangible fragment of time that, like many films, I can experience over and over again, remembering what it was like the first time I experienced the film. And in turn, use it as a reference as I write my own screenplays and direct my own films. But even outside of my creative work, Boyhood is one of the few films that I can gladly watch for pure enjoyment. Rather than being a new reality that I can escape to for 3 hours, it feels more like a time machine that travels me back to my own childhood, allowing me to sit back and watch as time seamlessly passes by. And then after finishing the film, allows me to say, “Look how far I’ve come… And look how far I have left to go.”
About the Author
Ben Escobar is a screenwriting and production student at JPCatholic (Class of 2018) who boasts an immense love for all things relating to the art of cinema. His favorite director is Richard Linklater and his favorite movie is Swiss Army Man.
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