Is there anything more evocative of time and place than music? Boyhood, famously shot over a 12 year period, opens with Coldplay’s Yellow and The Sloth immediately was shot back to a time before they were completely uncool.
Richard Linklater’s wildly ambitious plan of signing up Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, child actor Ellar Coltrane and his own daughter, Lorelei Linklater, to play the lives of a family of four from junior school to college graduation must have stemmed from genius or insanity. Aside from the logistics of getting them all together each year, how could he have predicited Ellar Coltrane, playing Mason whose boyhood we are following, would still be willing to be filmed age 15? We can only begin to imagine the reactions of the Hollywood media lawyers: “You want to do what?” At least Richard could threaten disinheritance to sway any grumblings from Lorelei.
Logisitics aside, what actually happens? Well, life. Marriages break up, renew, break up. Children gain friends, lose friends, enter puberty with all the messy baggage that brings. Houses are sold and bought, jobs are sought. Nothing dramatic and yet it is utterly compelling. The minutiae of 12 years compounded into 160 minutes against the backdrop of history – the Iraq war, the demise of Bush, the rise of Obama, all set to the musical soundtrack of the past decade.
In a time when we’ve grown used to actors being aged, usually badly, by makeup and prosthetics, watching genuine aging before our very eyes is both fascinating and a wildly uncomfortable memento mori. Boyhood is an astounding achievement not so much for the story it follows onscreen, but for how it makes us pause and reflect on the past 12 years of our own lives. Did yours pan out how you wanted?
UK release 11 July 2014. DVD release 10 November.