I became a father in September of 2013 and since then, the experience of being a father has significantly changed the way I watch certain movies. Such is the case with "Boyhood." It's interesting to think how the movie would've affected me just one year earlier, when I was not yet a father. But because I am, I watched the movie from two different perspectives: putting myself in the shoes of the main character AND in the shoes of the parent. Because of this, "Boyhood" wound up being an incredible and profound viewing experience for me.
Yes, "Boyhood" is easily one of the best movies of the year but to even give off that kind of hyperbole makes me cringe a little bit. I say it because, damnit, it's true. I know it to be true. This movie universalizes the experience of growing up and, most importantly, you see the way everyone grows up around this young boy. You see the mother (Patricia Arquette) grow from being an struggling young single mother to a professional working woman... who is still very much the caring and sweet mother that she was 12 years ago.
When we first meet the father (Ethan Hawke), he's an immature livewire who has hopes and dreams for his life, but hasn't really fully taken responsibility for his children. A decade later, he's re-married, with another child, and has finally grounded himself in reality. He has a real job now and as he says in the movie, he's finally the man the mother wanted him to be all along.
As for the kid, some have taken the character to task for moping around and doing nothing substantial with his life, but that's kind of the point of the film and it's really ridiculous that anyone would take this character to task for not being perfect. Jesus Christ... of course he has issues. Why wouldn't he? He's lost and confused and has questions about the way things are. Having gone through many of the same things he went through, I could understand where he's coming from. Maybe that makes my evaluation of this film a little unfair, but I honestly think people have a hard time empathizing with anyone that's not like them these days.
I mean, there are plenty of ways this kid differs from me. Just the fact that he grows up in Texas makes him a much different person than me. He had different life experiences, for sure. But it's the whole that I'm talking, not the parts. Taking in the entire 160-minute movie at once, I think the overall experience of going from a kid to becoming a young adult is something everyone should be able to relate to. We all have questions about life, we all have points where we're unsure what we want to do. We all grow up and what do we become at the end? Not just adults, but imperfect adults. As kids, we have the whole world in front of us. As adults, we have taken and chosen certain paths and not every single path is necessarily the right one but it's what we ultimately have to come to accept. The reason why teenage years are so tough is because we go from being naive children to finally learning about what really goes on in the world. It's a tough process to handle. Some people grow up faster than others, but all of us have certain aspects of our lives that we're not proud of.
What makes "Boyhood" such a profound and poignant film and NOT just a "regurgitation of reality" is that it asks us to take a look at our own lives and see what we've made of it. By the end of the film, the boy has become a young man and he sits and stares at the sky. Part of him can't help but be in awe of all the possibilities that lie in front of him, but another part of him asks the same question we all ask ourselves at a certain point in our lives: "Is this it? Is this really what being an adult is like?" It's funny, right? Because all throughout our childhood and teenage years we dream about what life will be like when we get older. But by the time you hit 18 or 19 and realize "man, I don't really feel all that different than when I was... 12"... it's quite a shock to the system. Many things have changed about Mason, the main character, but just as many things have stayed the same. He's still the same person he was 12 years ago.
So why does calling it one of the best films of the year make me cringe? Because in a lot of ways, "Boyhood" has an ordinary feel to it. It doesn't feel epic. It doesn't feel like someone's masterwork. But that's exactly what's so amazing about this film. It's about the ordinary things. It's about how we go through all these motions in our lifetime without realizing the significance of it all. Or the insignificance of it. Because in a lot of ways, our lives are significant. In our heads and in our hearts, our lives really seem to matter. But in many more ways, our lives don't matter at all. "Boyhood" captures that natural indifference, but because it's shot throughout the course of 12 years, the overall whole of the entire thing feels so goddamn significant. By the end, you say to yourself "wow, I just watched 12 years of this kid's life." It really, truly, does hit you at a certain point. Like a gut punch.
Director Richard Linklater is just trying to tell us that this whole thing, this whole "life" thing is really pretty goddamn crazy when you stop and think about it. Why do we do the things we do? Why do we grow up? Why do all these things happen? It's pretty intimidating to stare life right in the eyes and realize how little you actually know. And, for me, "Boyhood" is one of the most uplifting films I've ever seen because it not only calms me down and tells me I don't have to worry so much about this crazy thing called life, it also reminds me just how amazing it's going to be to see my son go through all the same things for the next 18 years. Or better yet, for the rest of his life. How great is that?