A Movie Shot Over 12 Years: Why Reviewing ‘Boyhood’ Is Like Reviewing Life

Posted on November 17, 2014 in Media

By Surangya Kaur:

When I told a friend I want to review the movie Boyhood next, he asked me, “But won’t reviewing Boyhood be like reviewing life?” I could stop right here and it would tell you as much as another thousand words will, but I’ll write those words anyway.

“Kerouac, Bukowski, and Cassavetes are all responsible for inspiring more bad art than anybody else. Because the second anybody encounters their work, it looks so simple that they think they could do it themselves.” Rick is the same way. He makes telling a story so effortless, casual, and accidental that one imagines there is no real craft involved. Like Bukowski just wakes up in the morning and burps an elegiac poem, or Cassavetes just turns the camera on his wife, or Kerouac just takes a drive and comes back with a novel, Linklater seems to just whip up a film.” —Ethan Hawke, Boyhood: Twelve Years on Film


Those of you familiar with Richard Linklater’s works, especially the Before Sunrise trilogy will understand what Hawke is trying to say here. There’s not much in the movie that I can spoil for you. For its lack of a tumultuous storyline, it might even seem effortless to make such a film. But that is what makes it truly brilliant.

The movie was shot for a few weeks each year, for duration of twelve years, with the same cast. Just as an idea, it seems inconceivable. To go ahead and make it anyway was a gallant decision, and the fact that it came out to be as good as it is, is even more astounding.

The movie is the story of a 6-year-old boy, Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), from his childhood to his high school graduation. He has a younger sister, played by Lorelei Linklater (Richard’s daughter), and Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as his divorced parents. The story is not just a bildungsroman of this boy but more of an eloquent portrayal of maturing people. We see the whole family grow and evolve in front of our eyes. Watching the parents grow up is as much as a rewarding experience as the children. Makes you realize how fickle we are in terms of the people we are and how, even though, we might think who we are right now is who we’ve always wanted to be, we’re still constantly changing; adding wisdom to our lives.

Linklater put immense trust in his cast to stick with him and his movie for the whole duration of twelve years, more so in the child artists who might have grown up unwilling to continue their work or unconvincing as actors. But Ellar and Lorelei were quite spectacular throughout. Hawke needs no introduction. He seems to have a special attachment to Richard’s time bound projects and does a virtuosic job in all of them. Arquette couldn’t have done a better role of a struggling mother with a poor taste in men but her children’s best interests at heart.

The movie has a melodious soundtrack which has been placed rather excellently in terms of the lyrics.

“Let me go.
I don’t wanna be your hero.”

These two lines, from the song Hero by Family Of The Year, can be used as an aphoristic summation of Mason’s character.


Linklater wholly relied on the power of time as a concept to carry the movie through. “I bet the whole farm on what I thought would work with every ounce of my cinematic being, the way we perceive time and cinema and the way we identify with people put before us in a certain way. I thought, “Oh, there will be this cumulative effect.”

You’re sitting in a seat for two hours and 40 minutes or whatever. You’re kind of living through this life and there’s an investment. You’re giving your subject time and they’re giving you their whole life, but there is a reciprocal thing going. I felt that that’s how it would feel to watch it. So I just knew that I didn’t need to trump it up, I didn’t need a lot of plot, I didn’t need a lot of machinations, and that with the storytelling I could just kind of show life.” (Source)

The movie doesn’t explicitly declare how much time has passed, but rather depends on you to perceive it by the events in the characters’ lives. Linklater trusts the audience to make that out on their own.

Very rarely do we come across a work of art that picks up so many moments and milestones from our own lives and evokes all the emotions that went along with them. It’s like the movie is holding a mirror to see your own reflection in over all these years. It puts you in this warm and cosy place as you watch a little curious boy grow up into an intelligent teenager, experiencing all the traumas that come in the process and having mild existential crises like we all do. It will make you chuckle in amusement and nostalgia and at times upset you by reminding you of the unpleasant phases as well.

The movie is a must watch and easily amongst the best films of this year. It is also unique in its style and has its own special place reserved in cinematic history.