This might be one of my favorite films of this year. So difficult an execution and yet so simple a concept. You watch a child become an adult, without the trickery of multiple actors or aging makeup but simply in a series of captured moments across the past twelve years, with a tight stable of actors, all aging in real time, each sequence another year. A period piece shot in that period.
Of course “period pieces” always try to hide the “now” that they were shot in. Ben Hur fools you into thinking that you’re watching the 1st century CE rather than the 1950’s, just as Mad Men makes a statement about today by pretending that the actor playing Don Draper doesn’t go home from his office typewriter and use an iPad. In Boyhood, each scene revels in the “now” of its making. Real world events, technologies and cultural touchstones color each scene, from the Iraq invasion to Obama-mania to the frenzy surrounding Harry Potter book releases (speaking of films that chronicle the maturity of a group of young actors.) Each sequence, which is really each year, reminds you of its inherent contemporaneity.
Boyhood is also Richard Linklater’s best-realized iteration of an idea he’s fiddled with for decades now: the “Holy Moment.” I’m borrowing the phrase “Holy Moment” from a scene in the trippy, rambling rotoscoped essay Waking Life. A character, while paraphrasing André Bazin, describes film as a way of capturing moments, framing it and making it “holy” by allowing you to step outside of reality and see its beauty. Another character describes it, “To say yes to one instant is to say yes to all of existence,” with film being one way to “say yes” to a captured and framed instant of time. Linklater’s “Before” series also studies this, showing the evolution of a couple’s relationship in three nights spanning 18 years of time.
No wonder that the most famous line from any Linklater movie is: “I keep getting older, and they stay the same age.”
Mason, the boy we follow from grade school to graduation, is aware of this. An introverted, insightful budding photographer, he has chosen to devote his life to capturing such instants. At the end of the film he says, with a 19-year-old’s simple sense of erudition, “The moment seizes you… it’s always right now.” -letting the audience chuckle, knowing that they’ve just watched 12 years compressed into 2 and a half hours. That’s a power that film has over any other medium.
We’ll keep getting older, and twelve years of Mason’s life will stay the same age.