As we drove home from seeing Boyhood I told Michael that there was only one flaw I had noticed while watching the film. Funny, I can't remember now what that was. It has been eight days since we saw it, and whatever that particular flaw was, I've since forgotten it.
I was one of those people who fell in love with Before Sunrise because it seemed to authentically express many of my own ideas on life and love, lifting them to the level of generational thoughts, while doing it in an exotic, foreign setting. It was the romance we all wished to have. I'm not sure if originally or later I appreciated the craft of the film--the way a shot was held so much longer than most directors hold them now, the slow pacing of the conversation, the walking, the extras who appear (sometimes without dialogue) and add to the visuals, the sense of place. When Before Sunset was announced, I encouraged younger folk to see the first film and then the second, and some of them became fans. That film captured where we were in our late twenties, again authentically. I decided I wanted a film from them every decade because it would be the chronicle of our generation's romantic life. Then, Before Midnight did it a third time. I don't know how many times in watching that film that I squirmed because one of the nasty things that Celine or Jesse said was close to something I'd said in an argument with Michael. And along the way those aspects of Linklater's craft have continued to satisfy me.
And now Boyhood. I was mesmerized and started regretting that the film was going to come to an end. Here that craft is put to good use again--long meandering conversations, holding the shot longer, letting time flow, and rooting everything in place. I've not seen a review that noted the use of place in this film. We seem to begin somewhere near coastal Texas and move west, through Houston, to San Marcos and Austin, and then to the Big Bend area. The young man is moving west. Linklater pays attention to these spaces and lets them shape the shots and the flow of the conversations.
One thing that surprised Michael and I watching the film was how often we were on the edge of our seats expecting something catastrophic to happen. And then it didn't. For example, if a camera lingers that long on a family driving in a car, then usually that means there is going to be a car accident. We've been programed by filmmakers to expect these sorts of things. Just listening in on an ordinary conversation, then, becomes extraordinary.
I've seen so many cynical films lately. Snowpiercer, for all its visual flair, was a glorification of violence and, ultimately, a cynical statement that revolution is futile. Guardians of the Galaxy had its good moments, but could have been so much better than it was. It largely lacked an human element, with sadly Groot the tree coming closest. Planet of the Apes surprised me by how well done it was, but even it concludes that the demons of our nature can't be eradicated.
Here, in Boyhood, was finally a film about humanity. It largely worked because these characters were not all that interesting. They were, generally, quite ordinary. And being ordinary, they were complex. Watching we also were able to experience some nostalgia. In that vein, I enjoyed the exploration of Austin as young lovers right before heading off to college. The sentiments expressed there, more than the place or the actual words, resonated with my own memories of my late teen years.
What troubles me most about the film, is something that also may be authentic. The dad is a jerk, especially in the early years, yet he ends up with the stable family life (the aging of Ethan Hawke wasn't very effective, but they had to do something because he has aged so little. And NOW I remember the flaw I had forgotten. That tie he was wearing at the end. That character would not have been wearing that tie only a year or so ago). Mom, who has worked hard, tried and failed at love, ends up alone and thinking her life is less than it should have been.
I left this Linklater film, as I have others, feeling that something of what it means to live in our time has been captured. I left satisfied and grateful.