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Nothing Else Compares: My Thoughts on ‘Boyhood’

by on September 29, 2014

I have yet to read a review of Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” that isn’t a reflection of some kind of personal memory or experience. While movie reviewing is generally a personal, opinionated business, it seems more prevalent than usual. Should writers remove themselves from the picture for this movie? Doesn’t anyone just have a straight opinion? Well, after seeing it myself, I think it would be almost impossible to remain strictly objective about “Boyhood”.

This stems from the fact that “Boyhood” is a very personal movie. As you follow Mason Jr. from his early childhood to his youngest days of college life, you’ll undoubtedly be drawn in by things that are reminiscent of your own memories. You don’t just get to know him, his sister and his parents, but you get to know them in a really intimate way.

The making-of story for this movie is compelling enough on its own, simply in its grandiosity and scope,* to inspire think pieces and essays all over the internet, but the movie is an inspiring piece of work as well.

*This movie was filmed in real-time, once a year for about a month, for 12 years. The fact that it all worked out (and worked out well) is an unbelievable achievement. I, for one, regardless of how I even feel about the movie, am thrilled that this movie even exists.

And with a movie like this, which everyone seems to be writing about, it makes perfect sense that people can’t help but draw personal comparisons to it. This isn’t a movie in the sense that most movies are movies, with a beginning, middle and end. This is something more than that. This is a reflection of life, an unbelievable achievement in and expansion of what movies can accomplish.

What worries me is that this is just another one of those movies that’s all too easy for general movie-going audiences to write off. Not a lot of “stuff” is ever really happening. “Boyhood” mostly consists of moments of character study and development. I even feel wrong calling this “entertainment.” Like I said, this is about watching life.

The four main characters are fantastic. You could argue that Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke or Patricia Arquette plays the main character. But their on-screen personas are more than characters. They are people, real people with desires, flaws, goals, setbacks, complexity, and a sense of self. And though we’re just getting a short peek into various stages of their lives, it feels like an invaluable insight.

How well you relate to Mason Jr.’s personal experiences will probably vary based on your own. For me personally, the moments where his story resonated were few and far between. He had a very accelerated journey through childhood compared to me and definitely followed a different path. But I imagine many of the things he went through will resonate strongly with many people. In fact, I know that they have.* And I know they must have been incredibly affecting because the things that did resonate with me were incredibly powerful and brought me back to the real world in brutal, blunt fashion. A mom who is devastated because her child is going off to college and leaving her at home. A teenager who is beginning to really think, for the first time, about the incomprehensible and unbelievable thing we call life. A father who isn’t perfect, but clearly cares about his children more than anything in the world. Finding something you love and really being passionate about it.

*Seriously, check out that link. It will be the best movie review you’ve ever read.

It really is hard to describe the effect this movie had on me. Anything that I write will inevitably be reductive. I’ll just say this: “Boyhood” is an experience that everyone should have. It will affect everyone differently, but I promise it will affect you. Linklater didn’t just study life, but life as it truly happens, with all its quirks and intricacies.

But there’s one thing I keep coming back to in my head with this movie, something that “Boyhood” captures more accurately than anything else.

Before I get to that, a slight digression. Earlier this year, I studied abroad in Europe with my journalism college. It’s almost impossible to accurately verbalize how incredible the experience was and how impactful it was on my life. But one thing I can say for sure is that the best part of going to Europe had nothing to do with seeing the Eiffel Tower or crowding around the Mona Lisa. Nothing to do with the food that I ate or the shows that I went to, as great as those things may have been.

The most memorable moments are just what they claim to be.

Moments.

They’re never planned. You probably won’t create moments that you’ll remember forever. The most lasting ones just happen. Walking down the sidewalk pavement as some idiot tries to pickpocket me on the way by. Sputtering along in conversation on the Metro with two random French girls who can barely understand what you’re saying. Climbing rocks around a French castle without a care in the world, feeling like I’m five years old again. Realizing that being thrown into a foreign country made me bond with people I never even would have imagined talking to before. For those brief moments, I felt like I was really living.

It’s those beautiful little human moments in “Boyhood” that resonated more strongly with me than anything else. Linklater understands the big, constructed “moments” aren’t important. In fact, he glosses right over them. High school graduation, weddings, a college acceptance letter coming back in the mail. All of these things happen off-camera.

Linklater, it seems, understands that these small moments are the ones that make life memorable. A father’s unadulterated joy as his little boy and girl come running to his arms. Recognizing something in a man who’s just there to fix your plumbing and not only lifting his spirit for the day, but changing his life. Seeing a father struggle to communicate with his family but convey everything that needs to be said as soon as he picks up his guitar. Having a woman tell you she loves Obama because he’s just so darn cute, exhibiting a clear misunderstanding of what it is that a president does. Seeing someone smile because they’ve found something they love.

And that’s what I loved about “Boyhood.” It wasn’t the sum of its parts, but the parts themselves. The brief snapshots, the poignant observations of life. Of sloppy, confusing, beautiful, rapidly moving life. Those are the moments where “Boyhood” elevates to a place beyond the movie medium itself.

It captured what life is all about. It’s about the family, friends and moments that make up this weird journey we’ve all been thrown into in this crazy world of ours. It’s about those moments that make us feel alive, like we’re part of something bigger. But it’s also about the ones that make us feel small. The ones where we look across the subway station and realize, as people hustle and bustle about, that we’re just one person out of seven billion. It’s about those moments that you have to experience to understand. The ones that words can’t describe.

But most of all, life is about your moments. It’s about the indefinable, incomprehensible moments that make you who you are. What makes you unique.

And you know what? They teach us in journalism school to avoid using that word, unique, but I can’t think of a better way to describe “Boyhood”. Because it may be just that.

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