By Nick Anstett
Elm Staff Writer
There’s a scene towards the end of “Boyhood” in which Ellar Coltrane’s Mason, now a legal adult, steps into his, admittedly cramped, freshman dorm room and looks about. This is where he will be spending the next year of his life and his steps into adulthood. It’s a quiet moment and on the surface there’s really nothing special about it, but there’s a connection to our own lives. This is a moment that every student at Washington College has experienced to at least some degree, some much more recently than others.
There is something inherently human about “Boyhood” that surpasses any other films in recent memory. Much of this is due to Richard Linklater’s ambitious and dedicated commitment to its central premise. “Boyhood” chronicles the childhood and coming of age of Mason, played by newcomer Coltrane. While the coming of age narrative is not a particularly new one, Linklater’s approach itself is ultimately what makes “Boyhood” such a powerful experience. Linklater originally cast and began production on the film in 2002 and continued filming short bursts annually until 2014. The result is that the film follows Mason as he ages in as close to real time as possible. In under three hours we have watched Coltrane take Mason from a stone collecting six-year-old, to a father-figure-searching preteen, to a young man on the cusp of adulthood attempting to find a career in photography.
The simple fact that Linklater is able to tie together fourteen years of footage into a coherent and resonant whole is in and of itself one of the most astounding achievements in recent cinema. It’s an epic in terms of length and production, but the scale is bafflingly intimate keeping its focus not on the extraordinary but on the pedestrian and human.
While its narrative is primarily focused on the evolution and loss of childhood, “Boyhood” also acts as a subtle chronicle of twelve years of American popular culture and history. In a way, “Boyhood” acts as a nostalgia fest for millenials. Mason attends midnight premieres for Harry Potter books, covers his ears while his sisters friends jam out to “High School Musical”, and throws his arms about attempting to play Nintendo Wii. There’s a sweetness knowing that Boyhood isn’t attempting to replicate a way of life but instead showing snapshots from those years. It’s 2002 in a bottle, and so and so on. While “Boyhood” offers intelligent and thoughtful material for all generations, those that grew up during the times depicted that are sure to get an extra oomph of emotional resonance.
In a similar way, I cannot recommend “Boyhood” enough to WC’s incoming freshman. Mason’s travels into adulthood, chronologically at least, mirror steps that you will find yourselves in the midst of taking. It’s a powerful experience and well worth your time.
While the focus of the film’s narrative is very clearly focused on Coltrane’s admittedly impressive performance, there is no shortage of strong acting from the remainder of the cast. Ethan Hawke, capturing an earnest need to become a good father while facing the struggles of his own directionless life, turns in one of his strongest performances in recent years as Mason’s mostly absent father. However, the real scene stealer, and the heart of much of the film’s emotional weight, is Patricia Arquette’s loving, but emotionally tortured performance as Mason’s mother.
The film’s achievement is in its scope and its intimacy. It captures a universal story but with unique totality and emotional smarts. It’s a film that should be viewed at least once and should be required viewing for incoming college students.