Boyhood is a blur. That’s intentional. The film is awe-inspiringly massive in scope, and the unceasing motor that drives it forward is forceful enough to flatten. Shot over 12 years, with director Richard Linklater filming scenes with the same young actor (Ellar Coltrane, sublime) for a few weeks annually, capturing a boy named Mason as he transforms from bright-eyed six-year-old into wearier but still hopeful 18-year-old, Boyhood is a singular masterpiece. Technically, it’s an astonishing feat, and narratively, it’s a daring experiment on which only one filmmaker would ever have taken a chance. It’s also a sprawling mess, a film in which scenes smash and splinter into other scenes, like magnificent waves crashing down one after another. Months or years pass in the blink of an eye.
Again, that’s intentional. The inner motor I spoke of earlier is time, constant, inexorable, unavoidable, and the cruel but honest way in which Linklater addresses it has a haunting beauty. We see how time allows for the nourishing of life, as Mason’s deeply flawed but strong-willed mother (Patricia Arquette) fights successfully to raise two children (with the occasional help and hindrance of their free-wheeling father, played by Ethan Hawke), and as those children flourish from little kids into thoughtful, loving adults. But we see equally time’s capacity for destruction, as marriages implode, relationships dissolve and people cast aside things that were once intrinsically linked to them, searching for some more permanent sense of self.
Boyhood rambles and meanders, some moments lingering and others flickering by with impossible speed, but for all of the repeated misery and merriment in Mason’s adolescence, the film is mostly about how we’re all marched steadily into the future against our will, borne down a river of temporality like so much helpless driftwood. His mother, his father (Ethan Hawke), his older sister (Lorelei Linklater), his first love (Zoe Graham) – all of these people are important individuals, traveling down their own paths, but they’re also only partial elements of Mason’s life as a whole. His life’s journey is his alone.
How did it all go by so fast? That’s the question at the heart of Boyhood. Linklater asks it – he yearns for bygone times as much as the rest of us. (In particular, it must have been bittersweet for the director to watch his own daughter age before the camera alongside Coltrane.) But with this film, he also gives us the answer – that it went by because we lived it, and we were once present in that moment, but it passed into memory, and now here we are, gifted with another moment, one just as resplendent and ripe with potential.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from what Linklater has created in Boyhood, it’s that time is fleeting. Every moment is gone before it can be processed, and only by examining our lives as fluid journeys can we make anything of them. We’d be well-advised to cherish every last second, to seize the moment and to let the moment seize us, and in doing so live out our days with the knowledge that our ephemerality, that we will eventually live out our days, is exactly what makes it all so valuable.
Boyhood is brought to Blu-Ray with a solid 1080p transfer that is usually rich with crisp detail, from the bright greens of a golf course to the multi-colored mess of Mason’s room. Skin tones are natural throughout, and though the presentation isn’t as sharp as a top-of-the-line blockbuster’s likely would be, it does a fine job. Certainly, Boyhood won’t be dazzling any ardent collectors, but for the rest of us, it’ll do.
In terms of audio, Boyhood is also sturdy, with Paramount Pictures providing a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. This isn’t a film where sound makes or breaks the package, but it’s appreciated that the dialogue is front-and-center, always crystal clear and free from any distractions. The excellent soundtrack is also cleanly implemented, as are smaller sound effects, but this is a track that really turns the focus to the actors’ performances and the sounds of their voices.
Cinephiles may be disappointed by the small amount of extras on this release, which also includes a DVD, a UV copy and an iTunes-compatible copy, but Boyhood does excel with the two special features it provides:
- The 12 Year Project (19:11)
- Q&A with Richard Linklater and the Cast (52:38)
“The 12 Year Project” is an insightful, greatly enjoyable making-of mini-doc that provides a full look at the film, from its conception up through its shoot’s conclusion. Those interested in how Linklater planned such an extensive, commitment-heavy shoot will find some interesting information about the way in which the director chose to tackle the veritably unprecedented project, and discussion about the ways in which the film organically grew and deviated from its set course is particularly fascinating to hear.
As for “Q&A with Richard Linklater and the Cast,” that much lengthier extra, recorded at last June’s Cinefamily Screening at the Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles, California, finds the cast and director (including Richard and Lorelei Linklater, Hawke, Arquette and Coltrane) talking extensively to filmgoers about the minutiae of making Boyhood, from filming techniques to addressing character developments to incorporating the right music. The amount of work that everyone involved with Boyhood put into the project absolutely boggles the mind, and it’s plain to see how thrilled all of the actors and Linklater are to be recognized for their commitment.
Boyhood has a solid video/audio package, along with some interesting extras (though a full-length documentary certainly could have been made about Linklater’s cinematic time-lapse experiment), but the real recommendation here comes because of the film itself. At once astonishingly vast and crushingly intimate, Boyhood is a movie about life itself. Using one little boy as he grows into a man, it somehow manages to get to the heart of the human experience – that it’s a journey, one that zigs when you think it will zag, one that is both far more terrible and beautiful than you can ever prepare yourself for. Boyhood is an eloquent, thoughtful film about how life is filled with millions of monumental moments. It shows us how those moments built a man – but Boyhood‘s most valuable trait is how it implores you to think about the ones that made you.
Boyhood is dizzying and dazzling, messy and mesmerizing, an ambitious and singular movie that grapples with towering questions about life itself - and finds profundity in how it not fails but refuses to provide all the answers.