• jorlyd

    You raise a lot of good points, and you’re right that it would have made the film a lot more interesting if Linklater had made Mason anything other than an average straight white kid. I would have liked to see a movie about his sister, for example. Even his dad was more objectively interesting than he was. The film as it is really worked with me though, because I was an average straight white kid who thought and acted that way when I was younger. I like to think I’ve grown up a little bit since then, but I’m only a few years older than Mason would be now and, I don’t know, it really resonated somehow.

    Also, my favorite of the Before trilogy is Sunrise, I think because there’s so little conflict, and I watched it at a sort of perfect time where it could really work its magic on me. It’s also probably my favorite because I’m in my 20s, and I suspect that Sunset will be my favorite when I’m in my 30s. Midnight is probably the best one; it’s such an emotional rollercoaster.

    This is tangentially related, but there’s this really cool video essay about Linklater and the motif/theme of time throughout his filmography that really kind of elevated his films in my mind: http://vimeo.com/81047160

    • It’s probably because I watched Boyhood with my sister, but I was totally wishing the movie would focus more on his sister too – maybe one that cut between their lives.

      Despite being in my 20’s too, I wonder if Dazed and Confused is my favourite Linklater because I’m actually suspended in mental adolescence. I’m not nostalgic about it either, I watched it for the first time this year.

      • jorlyd

        I watched Boyhood with my sister too! I also thought that Lorelai Linklater was really good, although apparently she became less interested in the role as the project went on, and you can kind of tell. And yeah, I think a movie where it cut between their lives would have been really interesting.

        I love Dazed and Confused as well, although I first saw it as a teenager so I might be a little nostalgic. I hear you about feeling like I’m stuck in mental adolescence though, I feel that way a lot. Although maybe it’s just that we’re not too far removed from our actual adolescence.

  • ravingponies

    Some interesting points (and well written) but I think the problem is that you wanted Boyhood to be a different movie entirely, more specifically, a more traditional movie experience. You fault it for the very characteristics that make it so original and so different from all the movies constantly churned out by Hollywood that have a grand message, or push some social agenda, or of overcoming impossible obstacles. It’s mostly conflict-free because the whole purpose of the film is to capture the most common experiences of the most average people in the United States at this point in time. The movie serves as a visual time-capsule of this time period, and any stylistic flourishes would have completely taken one out of the documentary style of the film. Movies have shown us pretty much every trick in the book in terms of manufacturing tension in addition to employing different visual/audio styles to hold our interest, yet there has never been a movie quite like this one. By filming a non-traditional narrative with very little flair, Linklater somehow created an immersive experience without having to rely on old, cliched tropes for artificial drama. That in itself is a major achievement, especially for a film with a 3 hour running time. I found it to be a breathe of fresh-air, a film filled with genuine moments of true emotion, and reminded me of the possibilities of film as an art form.
    I can understand if someone isn’t a fan of Linklater’s work, as you seem to be, because the stories he tells aren’t fueled by conflict like in most movies. I’m not saying that all films should be like Linklater’s either, because then that formula would most assuredly go stale, but for what his films set out to do, and especially in the case with Boyhood, Linklater achieves his goals successfully. He is the master of capturing the passage of time, the beauty of the mundane, and the essence of human interactions. I’m reminded of the scene in Boyhood where Mason asks his dad if magic exists, and his father tells him how mythical creatures don’t but there are plenty of creatures that are real and are magical in their complexity and beauty. I think this message perfectly encapsulates Boyhood. There’s no magical wizards, no impossible obstacles or traumatic episodes to overcome, no hyperreal visual/audio or other technical wizardry to be wowed by. It is just simple moments that when strung together tell a story of one boy’s simple, average life. Isn’t that enough?

    • Thank you for the very well-spoken comment. It’s not so much that I wanted more conventional structure conventional structure and the like. I like a good, simple movie – Dazed and Confused is one of them. Linklater sometimes crosses the line into making films that are simple for the sake of simplicity, though. I didn’t think Boyhood achieved anything that could not have been achieved if it was more complex or branched out in different directions. He could have made the film even more simple, too – I suppose it’s not a question necessarily of how simple it is, but how creative the simplicity is. But like you say, it’s about how immersive the experience is, and that is very subjective.

      • William Wilson

        I think the question you seem to be pointing toward here is a good one: Would Boyhood be receiving such adulation if it had been produced in a more conventional manner? Would the same story and script hold up if it had been filmed within a few months with different actors playing the lead role to represent the character at different ages? I suppose it’s a kind of form/content quandary: Would this content be so highly praised if the production hadn’t been formed in such an unusual manner?

        To tell the truth, I haven’t seen the film yet, but since I saw RedLetterMedia’s negative review — which is nowhere near as eloquent and substantial as yours, though I believe it was made thoughtfully as well, with no ax to grind — I’ve wondered if the film hadn’t been anointed before being seen, due to affection for Linklater as a filmmaker and the difficulty level of the project.

        This is the first Solute article I’ve read, and I’m pretty impressed. Keep up the good work.

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  • While I pretty much loved Boyhood, I share some of your unenthusiasm for Mason as a character, especially in the movie’s middle sections where he (presumably) changes so quickly as a person that he becomes kind of discontinuous from year-to-year: oh, now he’s artsy, and oh now he’s slacking off at school, etc. The year-by-year structure makes it so that he accumulates traits more than he gets to let his existing traits develop and interact with the world.

    That being said, I think Linklater is more aware of Mason’s faults than you give him credit for, and the way Mason becomes increasingly an asshole as the movie enters its final few years seems like a deliberate choice on the movie’s part to be honest and open about the character. The juxtaposition of Mason’s magical trip to Austin with his girlfriend one year with him breaking up with that same girlfriend the very next scene (and the next year) was particularly interesting to me, how it seemed to suggest a complexity of psychology in Mason that the rest of the movie doesn’t always get at.

    Good write-up with some really interesting points. I don’t entirely agree with you (for some of the reasons mentioned by other commenters), but I always love reading thoughtful, well-written opinions. Excellent stuff, sir.

    • Anthony Pizzo

      I’m with you on Linklater being aware of Mason’s faults. For me, the power of Arquette’s monologue is that she’s dressing him down. She devoted her entire life to him and his sister, and they’re both leaving her behind without a second thought. Mason doesn’t even have the decency to take the very first photograph he ever took, probably framed by her, to college with him.

  • Anthony Pizzo

    I agree with a lot of your points about Mason, but I think you’re selling the rest of the cast short (especially Arquette, who I consider the film’s second lead, and who does lead a very interesting life full of conflict and struggle). Part of the joy of the film for me was seeing all of these other characters float in and out of Mason’s perspective. (Consider the gardener, who makes some radical changes to his life between scenes while Mason is naval gazing)

    In a way I think maybe the movie is reinforcing a lot of your points. Why not concentrate on the other kids busting their asses in a diner to help pitch in at home, (a sequence I believe is Linklater realizing his not-picked-up “$5.15/hr.” series) or a returning vet who believes empathy is the best way to win a war, or survivors of domestic abuse, etc.? What makes Mason so special, or so emblematic of the American boy’s experience?

    Interesting write-up, and I hope it inspires someone to pick up a camera and make something about the less-documented experiences.

    • Son of Griff

      The films’ major conceit is that it proceeds from a thesis that Mason’s more solipsistic, narcissistic personality traits are endemic to the point of view that one finds in American culture in general, and what we are presented in the margins is generally ignored. ravingponies point about wanting to see a different film is interesting is a good one, and as your post suggest, creates the desire to see the films’ technique applied to a better subject.

  • Son of Griff

    While BOYHOOD’s fragmentation of time in accordance with the conventions of documentaries, as opposed to theatrical features, is compelling from a sensory and intellectual standpoint, the film seems a bit anemic as it defaults to a white male perspective as the universal font for organizing its conceits. My take, however, is that the films use of documentary time to occlude theatrical character and narrative development forces the viewer to see the protagonist from an anthropological perspective. As you point out, the effect alienates the spectator in a way that DAZED AND CONFUSED doesn’t. In fact BOYHOOD, in terms of style and content, is the mirror of the earlier work. In making “whiteness” the object of the filmmakers inquiry in this more recent study, however, Linklater finds no inner essence in his protagonist, just cultural detachment, and in the final scene with his mother makes that explicitly clear. Mason basically signifies the director’s point of view of white male power, but the revelation is less interesting than the method in which it is told.

  • crumzy

    I too agree that Mason is largely unmemorable and uninteresting as a character, but I found that to be central to the point of the film. Like Mason, I am also an average boy living an average life mostly devoid of drama and I certainly related to his story. I can see how being in the target audience for the film influenced my reaction to it (I loved it), but I don’t think that it stroked my ego. Yes, it did act as a mirror to my own life but where you argue that the film finds excitement in the mundane moments to keep someone like me engaged, I found something else: strong commentary on the banality of my life. I wasn’t indulged in an experience that showed me that my own unexciting and average life is worthy of great interest, rather it reminded me that although it’s easy for me to think of my own life as interesting or important, it is no different from the lives of countless others. There is nothing special about me, just as there is nothing special about Mason.

    In the scenes where Mason is humbled by the conversations with his photography teacher or his father near the end of the film, I found no satisfaction but instead was humbled along with him. The film, then, showed me a mirror to my own entitlement and argued that as much as it may sometime seem to me, I am not the center of the universe. I am just “winging it” through my life like many, many others. This, then, encourages a different kind of empathy, one born not of understanding what it’s like to be somebody else but of understanding that I am no different than other people.