Director Richard Linklater’s latest film, “Boyhood,” has received near universal praise for its concept, which follows Mason Evans Jr. through 12 years of schooling and life.
Unlike other films, which might cast 12 different actors to play Mason and film in one summer, Linklater signed cast and crew up for an unheralded project, filming a few scenes each year with the same actors and actresses during the course of a 12-year period so that, on screen, Mason Jr., played by Ellar Coltrane, ages in real time. He goes from a precocious 5-year-old boy staring at the sky in the film’s opening scene to a college freshman by the picture’s end.
The narrative is less plot-driven and more about grabbing moments throughout the course of M.J.’s life that shape him, such as a camping trip in the woods with his father or watching a glass-breaking fight between his mother and alcoholic stepfather.
The filming strategy is more than a gimmick. Linklater lays all of the hope, potential and possibility of life in front of Mason – his first beer, his first kiss, who he wants to be when he grows up. As he departs for college, one hopes Coltrane will sign on for a sequel charting the character’s life from college throughout his 20s.
While the film captures so many truths about how the events in our lives shape us, how millennials came of age and more, it also knows truths about how vital music is to our identity and how we come to find it.
It’s spread throughout the film, with father Mason Sr., played by Linklater’s go-to leading man, Ethan Hawke, as a failed rock musician and music lover, indoctrinating his son to both Wilco and his beloved Beatles during the camping trip. The elder Mason heaps praise on Wilco’s “Hate it Here,” perforating the experience of even hearing the song with his enthusiasm to compare it to something from The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” record.
In one both humorous and loving scene, Mason Sr. gives his son a mix CD named “The Black Album” for his 15th birthday. The name is a reference to The Beatles’ eponymous album and its all-white cover, with the mix collecting tracks from the four Beatles’ solo careers. Mason Sr. marvels at his brilliance for putting, in order, Paul McCartney’s “Band on the Run,” George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” and Ringo Starr’s “Photograph.”
The next scene, as the Evans family arrives in the Texas wilderness to visit relatives, “Band on the Run” plays above it, hinting that the younger Mason absorbed and incorporated his dad’s music into his own life experience.
It’s a truth about the way we receive music and the way it comes into our lives, particularly the nuggets and treasures that were issued before we were born.
Introduction to different music and artists isn’t a straight line. Just because Arcade Fire was around for a decade before “The Suburbs” won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2011 doesn’t preclude a number of its fans from discovering the group in the victory’s aftermath.
While “Boyhood” is wise about the anachronistic absorption of music, it knows, too, that it’s a mile marker in our lives. No one under 30 was alive when “Band on the Run” hit shelves, but many have a personal connection to the likes of Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 smash hit “Crazy.”
In the case of the film, song choices such as “Crazy” help orient the viewer in a picture that doesn’t draw attention to Mason Jr.’s aging. Instead, Linklater picks out Coldplay’s “Yellow” to start the film or The Black Keys’ “She’s Long Gone” to serve as time and place signifiers for Mason’s continued advance in age.
While “Boyhood” understands how we define ourselves in music, how it serves as signposts to certain experiences or eras for us, that’s just a small piece of what the film has to say.
“Boyhood” is a treatise on the moments that crystallize in our childhood and how that ripples across our lives, shaping who we become.
Because of the shooting strategy, it’s also unlike any film that’s ever been made before. That alone makes it worth the price of admission.
To read more of Nick DeCicco’s blogs, visit http://dailyrepublic.typepad.com/forthoseabouttorock. Follow him on Twitter @ndeciccodr.