Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is an ambitious film following the life of a young boy over the span of 12 years— from age 6 to 18. Principal photography started in 2002 in Texas. The movie had 39 shooting days spread over a stretch of more than 4000 days. Richard Linklater chose the 12-year span because it follows the boy from first grade of school until his graduation.
Boyhood tells the story of the boy Mason, his sister, and his divorced parents. The movie first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2014 and is in the main competition of the Berlin Film Festival 2014.
The Actors in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood
Ellar Coltrane stars as the young boy Mason. Coltrane has previously appeared in Richard Linklater’s Fast Food Nation (2006) and in David Semel’s The Lone Star State of Mind.
Ethan Hawke stars as Mason’s father, also named Mason. Hawke is one of Linklater’s regulars and stars in the director’s Before Trilogy: Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), and Before Midnight (2013).
Patricia Arquette stars as the mother Olivia. Olivia is single and has a tendency to fall for the wrong guys. Arquette also stars in Tony Scott’s True Romance and David Lynch’s Lost Highway.
Lorelei Linklater, Richard Linklater’s daughter, stars as Samantha, Mason’s older sister. Lorelei also appears in Linklater’s Waking Life.
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood: Time and Reality on Film
Linklater’s films often strive for realism in the depiction of time, most notably in Before Sunset where the action takes place over the course of a little more than one hour, after which Jesse (Ethan Hawke) has to catch a plane. The film’s running time corresponds almost exactly to the story’s action time.
Before Sunset is the second movie of Linklater’s Before trilogy, which follows the lives of a man (Ethan Hawke) and a woman (Julie Delpy) who first meet in Vienna in 1995, and then again in Paris in 2004. In Before Midnight they have already married.
The trilogy is probably Richard Linklater’s most similar work to Boyhood, as it catches up with its characters over long periods of time. Importantly, the characters in the movie meet in the same years as the movies are released, so Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have aged just as much as their characters Jesse and Celine have.
Time in the trilogy, therefore, is very realistically depicted. Ethan Hawke talked about the realism in the movies, which is also depicted by the lack of conventional narrative substance or dramatic events:
People ask what happens in these movies. The truth, the answer’s nothing. I mean, nothing happens, except it tries to be about real people and three-dimensional human beings.
The “nothing happens” is one of the central themes of Linklater’s independent cinema. It is probably the unifying leitmotif in his more experimental movies, especially in Slacker and Waking Life where the plot is non-narrative and the structure is a sequence of small everyday events and conversations.
In the beginning of Slacker, a man, played by Linklater himself, gets on a taxi and starts telling the taxi driver about his dreams, which are usually very vivid and bizarre.
So this dream I had, it was just like that, except instead anything bizarre going on, there was nothing going on at all. […] I was just driving around, staring out the windows of busses, and trains, and cars.
The scene starts about 1.40:
In a similar scene from Waking Life, a woman asks a man what he is writing, and he says a novel. The woman asks what the story is.
There’s no story. It’s just people, gestures, moments. It’s a rapture, fleeting emotions. In short, the greatest story ever told.
Both scenes seem in a way to be self-referential to the movies they are part from, but also highlight Linklater’s anti-narrative approach. For Richard Linklater Boyhood may be seen as another example of the director’s opposition of the conventions of narrative and plot.
Ethan Hawke called Boyhood “an epic about minutiae,” referring to the lack of conventionally dramatic or life-changing events in the movie. Instead, just like Slacker, Waking Life, or the Before trilogy, it focuses on the subtleties of everyday life. The description of the novel from Waking Life then may be a very accurate description of Boyhood.
Interestingly enough, in the scene from Slacker, Linklater’s character says that in one of his dreams, he had lunch with Leo Tolstoy. Eight months ago, on his reddit.com Ask-Me-Anything profile, Hawke called Boyhood a movie that is “Tolstoy-esque in scope.”
I thought the BEFORE series was the most unique thing I would ever be a part of, but Rick has engaged me in something even more strange. Doing a scene with a young boy at the age of 7 when he talks about why do raccoons die, and at the age of 12 when he talks about video games, and 17 when he asks me about girls, and have it be the same actor – to watch his voice and body morph – it’s a little bit like timelapse photography of a human being.
Richard Linklater’s movies, therefore, establish an intricate relationship with time and its real-life equivalent. The director uses time in a very specific and realistic way.
In another scene from Waking Life, two characters discuss the dimension of time and its realistic effect on the cinema medium. One of Waking Life’s main themes is dreams and their relation to reality. The rotoscope animation of the movie gives it an intentionally dreamy and surreal look. But in their conversation, the characters refer to the real-life film critic Andre Bazin, and this establish a deeper connection with the “real world.”
Cinema, in its essence, is, well it’s about an introduction to reality, which is that, like, reality is actually reproduced. And for him, it might sound like a storytelling medium, really. And he feels like […] literature is better for telling a story. You know, and if you tell a story or even like a joke, like you know “This guy walks into a bar and, you know, he sees a dwarf.” That works really well because you’re imagining this guy and this dwarf in the bar and there’s this kind of imaginative aspect to it. But in film, you don’t have that because you actually are filming a specific guy, in a specific bar, with a specific dwarf, of a specific height, who looks a certain way, right?
So like, um, for Bazin, what the ontology of film has to do is it has to deal with, you know, with what photography also has an ontology of, except that it adds this dimension of time to it, and this greater realism.
The conversation starts about 30 sec into the scene:
Another important discussion in this scene is the nature of imagination. Although the particulars of the film medium impede the imagination, for Richard Linklater Boyhood can be seen as an exercise in imagination too—the real-time gaps between the scenes in the movie add up to a 12-year period, compared to the 164-minute running time of the film. In a way, the relationship between the film’s running time and the story’s action time is stretched to the opposite of Before Sunset. It is up to the audience to mentally bridge the time gaps in Boyhood.
Boyhood accelerates time immensely, condensing 12 years into just a few hours, so in a way suggests imminence and subjectivity, somewhat reminiscent of Caden Cotard’s character in Synecdoche, New York, for whom time flows incomprehensibly fast and depicts his obsession with death.
In an interview in Mario Falsetto’s book “Conversations with Contemporary Film Directors,” Falsetto asks Richard Linklater if the characters in Before Sunrise are preoccupied with death and time.
That’s definitely an overriding theme, and the time element is most crucial. They have limited time, the clock’s ticking, and they’re outside of time. The talk it specifically when he says, “God, you know, we’re back in real time” in the morning when it’s light. The rest of the night is kind of a dream. I like the way we perceive time as humans. Time has different speeds, even though on one level, it’s always the same. There’s one clock out there, that’s the eternal clock. Time is pretty subjective, it’s different at different places in the universe in different times. But with time passing, you get to mortality. Those are sort of interlinked.
True to the director’s themes of time, reality, and anti-narrative, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a bold examination of the complex relationship between time, film, and real life. The movie’s official Press Conference at the Berlin Film Festival starts at 2.30 p.m. German time, or 8.30 a.m. New York Time.