Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Boyhood

It takes a special kind of film to bewitch you. It takes a particularly rare specie of film to intwine itself into your core, so that you become so affected and absorbed, it lingers in your mind like a stubborn infection, digging its heels into the very walls of your brain.

Dramatic of course, but Boyhood, director Richard Linklater's latest movie release, had and continues to have precisely that affect on me. The culture equivalent of having my soul taken out, shaken, strewn through the washing machine and hung out to dry like wary bed clothes.

On the face of it, Boyhood tackles themes and issues that have been dealt with copious amounts of times, not only in films but most culture forms - 'boy grows up', 'coming-of-age', 'families' 'struggling relationships'. It is understatedly filmed and shot. It has a couple of known actors in Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, but no one overly 'blockbuster'. Its not set in glossy bustling New York with grand sweeping titles and self knowing soundtracks inter-spliced with fancy camera angles.

Yet what does give Boyhood a pinch of spice, is that it was filmed over 12 years. Using the same actors over the 12 years, we see people noticeably age as the film develops - no make up, special affects or different actors here. It delivers a striking reality to the story. It also hits you quite profoundly how fast time alludes our grasps.

At the heart of the film is Mason. We first meet Mason as a 6 year old boy who lives with his sister and single mum in suburbia. There's nothing special, nothing particularly different about Mason or his family that does not also occur in millions of other single parent families, not only in America but across the world. He fights with his sister. He plays with his friends. His loving mum struggles with a bad relationship and making ends meet.
We follow Mason as he grows - the film suddenly switching to time having moved forward; we are struck by the subtle and yet also oddly noticeable changes in his face as he is growing. The same for his family. The moving in time may seem sudden, however it is like dropping in on a friend you haven't seen for a period of time. And it is this kind of recognisable familiarity to our own lives and relationships, that makes this film so affecting. There are also subtle nods to the period of the year - the music or the ipods; the emergence of technology and social media.

Nothing much seems to happen in this film as the time passes and the characters grow. But everything happens. There are no dramatic plots and twists other than relationships stretching to breaking point. Or the seemingly endless bad choices that Mason's mother makes, and of course, Mason and his sister having to experience new stages of life, change and the beginning of adulthood. We meet his estranged father, who dips into the family's lives almost as we do - we never discover the background to Mason's parents, but we do discover that although he may at first seem a drifting waster, for all his faults he really does loves his kids. Like Mason's mum, he tries to do his best.

These are all things that have happened to us, or we have experienced in some shape or form - and this is what makes Boyhood so absorbing. There is the mundane reality of every day life, of the chores, of the strange boredom of growing up when you want to do everything but can't, to the suddenly realisation that when you can start to do 'what you want', it's a terrifyingly black hole of unknown.

These are our feelings and our experiences.

There is one beautiful part of the film where a young Mason says to his father that 'there is no magic in the world is there' - and this for me, was the crux. In a world where we are fed stories of incredible individuals- super heroes, magically talented or powered; this small scene seemed an acknowledgement that as lovely and good as Mason is, he is just a normal kid - with his own talents and weaknesses, but nothing that remarkable. He's not a Harry Potter-esque chosen one, something we all grow up secretly hoping will happen to us, great mystical adventures of fantasy. Because that doesn't happen.

The film claws itself into your consciousness because of this recognition. We're all muddling through doing what we think we want or/and what is best, but essentially we're not really very more clued up on what we are doing than when we were 6 years old and lying in the garden watching the clouds.

And that is what we are. We are all a Mason. We will have our own little triumphs, our own little disasters; we will get a job, we will try to do something, we will meet people, we will lose people, we will have relationships, we will live a life. But nothing is new. No one escapes mundane. We are mundane. We all end up doing the same as millions before us, as millions will continue to do after we have gone. And I think this is what struck me about Boyhood - it is somehow an endless loop of events that will happen to all of us and repeat and repeat and repeat. Fast. When before we know it, our credits will roll and a new reel is put on and it all plays out again with a new cast - the technology and clothes and weight may change but its all still the same. And by now we are nothing more than the shadow of the clouds floating through the sky being gazed at by a 6 year old boy.

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