A Potpourri of Vestiges: Boyhood (2014): Richard Linklater’s treatise on life and the relationships that give it its meaning

Boyhood is a 2014 American indie film written and directed by Richard Linklater. The movie stars Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, and Lorelei Linklater in pivotal roles. The film premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and also competed at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival, where Linklater won the coveted Silver Bear for Best Director. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a singular exercise in filmmaking that underpins the supremacy of cinema as the definitive art form of the 21st century. Boyhood not only proves to be a filmmaking triumph but also serves as a powerful treatise on life itself. On the face of it, Linklater’s movie is all about America and, as expected, it does indeed offer sumptuous vignettes of Americana, but, at its core, it’s a movie about the universality of the delicate relationship that a parent shares with his/her progeny. Linklater proves that while ambition does come with a huge price tag, it can still be well rewarded as long as one has the patience and the perseverance to back it up. The idea, though, was pretty simple, but it was the ingenuity in execution that posed all kinds of challenges.


Actually, Linklater had envisioned to make a movie about childhood. At the time, he himself was a father to an 8-year-old girl and the very idea of parenthood fascinated him the most. But, it wasn’t going to be just another coming-of-age movie. In fact, Linklater didn’t even want to make movie to begin with, all he was interested in was to paint a portrait of childhood. He thought that a novel would best serve the purpose but then his inner creativity challenged him to rather use cinema as his preferred conduit. Voila! In 2002, Linklater finally identified, after several rounds of auditioning, a 6-year-old boy named Ellar Coltrane to play the role of Mason in his highly ambitious dream project, the production for which was to go on intermittently for the next eleven years.


However, he wasn’t just looking for someone to play a part in his movie. It wasn’t going to be a film about a boy’s life but the boy himself was going to be the film. That was Linklater’s grand vision. But, Linklater wasn’t going to make a real-life equivalent of The Truman Show (1998). So, basically, the deal was to shoot every year for 3-5 days with the boy as well as the other members of the cast, and somehow keep the constraints and uncertainties in check, hoping for the cosmos to conspire with them in fulfilling their endeavor. Another major challenge was to get some production house to financially back up the seemingly endless project. But, as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way! Boyhood is not only a triumph of Linklater’s creative genius but also a living proof that dreams do get realized as long as one has the will and the determination to chase them hard enough.


In Boyhood, Ethan Hawke (absolutely mesmerizing as the super-cool dad) and Patricia Arquette (in a memorable performance that packs a punch) play the parents to Mason and Samantha (played by Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei). We get to witness the hardships that Patricia Arquette’s character faces while raising the kids as a single mother in the state of Texas. Hawke’s character is a vagabond of sorts who fails to come to terms with his parental responsibilities. But, we see him becoming more mature as the time passes by. Nonetheless, he does pay the children a visit from time to time (making good use of the weekend visitation rights when he is around), often taking them on adventurous trips and exciting outings. In the meantime, Arquette’s character goes through two more failed marriages as Hawke’s character eventually settles down with a girl named Annie and is blessed with another baby (perhaps, only to experience the hardships of parenthood all over again and probably to improve on his earlier mistakes). One only wonders how different the life would have been for the two kids had their parents somehow managed to stick together? 


In Boyhood, the conversations that the father has with his son and daughter are mostly light-hearted but sometimes they have enough sense of gravity to make the viewer think and even contemplate about his or her own life and the different relationships that give it its meaning. They also raise awareness about various issues that are plaguing the modern societies like teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, and the ever increasing divorce rates. To an average viewer, Boyhood may come across as a typical coming-of-age film wherein the young lead character witnesses the loss of innocence while coming to terms with the reality of life,  but a keen-eyed viewer can easily figure out that, at its core, it’s as much about parenthood and human relationships as it is about childhood, if not more. In its essence, the movie is as simple and straightforward as it gets, but so is life if one only chooses to traverse it inch by inch.


Overall, Boyhood is thumping triumph of creative vision and an undisputed landmark in modern cinema. Linklater, in his characteristic style, brings us so close to these characters that they no longer seem like mere characters, for we see in them an extension of our own selves. Linklater is one of the few contemporary filmmakers who have mastered the art of storytelling, and whether it’s about presenting the chapters from a great man’s life (as he accomplished ever so playfully in Me and Orson Welles), or depicting a special day in the lives of a bunch of high school kids (as he beautifully depicted in Dazed and Confused), he, without fail, is up to the mark. Vintage Linklater, Boyhood’s greatest accomplishment is that it presents life the way it is, neither exaggerating it nor trivializing it. Boyhood leaves us with that bittersweet feeling of nostalgia and love, which, while making us regret the mistakes that we ourselves made in our childhood, also inspires us to help contribute towards creating a better world for the posterity. A must watch!

The review was originally published here:

A Potpourri of Vestiges: Boyhood (2014): Richard Linklater’s treatise on life and the relationships that give it its meaning.


About A Potpourri of Vestiges

Murtaza Ali is an independent film critic, sports writer, and content developer based out of Delhi. He is the author of the movie blog ‘A Potpourri of Vestiges’. He has been writing movie reviews at IMDb.COM for over four years. He is also associated with F1India.ORG as a content editor. Cinema is not only his passion, but also his greatest obsession. His all-time favorite movie-makers are Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick, Luis Bunuel, Andrei Tarkovsky, Charles Chaplin, Orson Welles, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Satyajit Ray, Fritz Lang, Sergio Leonne, Francis Ford Cuppola, and Martin Scorsese.
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