Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: Boyhood

Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: Boyhood

Article excerpt


12, Nationwide

Richard Linklater's observational chronicle, Boyhood , was 12 years in the making and is 166 minutes long -- that's nearly three hours, in real money -- and I wasn't bored for a single moment. Isn't that miraculous? Have you ever heard the like? Me, who is generally bored at the drop of a hat? Me, who is generally bored before the hat even hits the ground? But those 166 minutes (still nearly three hours, in real money) just flew by, as can happen, when you are utterly engrossed. Who knew?

This is the story of a family, as told through the eyes of a boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), who ages from six to 18, in real time. Here is how it worked: Linklater caught up with Ellar every year, for four or five days of shooting, along with other members of the key cast, amounting to 39 days in all. So everyone, quite literally, ages before us, which is fascinating, in and of itself. We see Ellar's different hairstyles, from floppy to crew cut, and his perfect childhood skin surrendering to acne and bumfluff and that most terrifying of male adolescent features, the hefty mono-brow. Similarly, we see changes in his sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director's daughter), as well as their parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette; both excellent), who thicken and gather wrinkles along with, I should add, substance and maturity. Boyhood is being described as a 'coming of age' film but, it made me realise, aren't we all 'coming of age', always? Isn't becoming a parent also 'coming of age', along with, at some point, having to let your children go? And so on?

Naturalistic: Ellar Coltrane and Ethan Hawke as Mason, junior and senior

As the film opens, Mason is that six-year-old, and is being chastised by his mother, Olivia (Arquette), in the car for not concentrating at school. Ellar is an arresting presence from the off, with his steady, green-eyed gaze and air of self-possession, and he remains arresting throughout. Linklater, who is best known for charting the course of a single relationship over a 20-year period in his 'Before' trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight ), can't have known what he was getting, precisely, with Ellar, or what he would get in future years, but maybe it wouldn't have mattered? If he'd grown up into a 20-stone slob with barbed-wire neck tattoo, it would have still been a film, but a different film? Just putting that out there, is all.

Olivia is a single mom, having separated from their father, Mason Snr (Hawke), who has been absent in Alaska, but has just returned. We don't know why their marriage broke down exactly, but are given to understand that Mason Snr is a drifter who could not knuckle down to parenthood. …

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