There's a scene in Richard Linklater's new film Boyhood where Ethan Hawke's character and his son, who is now fifteen, are chatting on a muddy river bank. Hawke picks up a stone, says something like "let me show you how this is done" and throws it low over the water. In a less compassionate, worse movie (Nebraska, say), he slips and falls in the mud, the son looks away in embarrassment, and the stone lands with a single splash three paces away. In the screening I saw at the Embassy yesterday, the capacity crowd gasped as the stone skimmed half a dozen times on the river. It was a small moment of real triumph; what we wanted but didn't expect. It felt like we had witnessed something actually happen, which is what theatre is always trying to achieve, and seldom this successfully.
The movie was made over twelve years, following a boy from age seven to eighteen. I've been thinking about why it was so moving and affecting for me, and maybe it's because the extreme and real compression of time meant that the lives of the characters were laid out in a way that made them more vulnerable and knowable than in any film I can think of. While the characters lived naturally in the moment, the changing bodies of the actors accumulated the 'ghosts' of previous selves in my perception of them. The characters' lives drifted and changed, and the camera watched without judgement or cruelty, acknowledging contradictions rather than exposing inevitable hypocrisy or failures. Like the otherwise entirely different Game of Thrones, trying to predict the overall story or direction of this film was not possible, and here it was not even encouraged. Real life doesn't follow that kind of arc, and it wasn't about playing 'gotcha' with our expectation of what happens next. Through this perspective, the film made me focus intensely and empathetically on the present situation of the characters. I listened intently to this person's political diatribe, that person's explanation of sex education. I had nowhere else I wanted to be.
The adult characters grapple with the real world, the boy gets ready to enter it. I identified with both, associating my own youth with Mason's, and at the same time, like the adult characters, feeling like a world-weary uncle to him- which I guess is what we always do with younger people we like. With breathtaking boldness, Linklater shows generic situations again and again - the teen break-up, the naval gazing conversations about alienation, the pillow fights in the back seat- and dares us to say they don't matter. It is clear, as the incredibly beautiful and witty final shot points out, that moments matter when they're happening to you. And they always are.
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