“Boyhood”: One of the Decade’s Most Quietly Ambitious Films

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Even at nearly three hours, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood feels fleet, replicating the feeling of skimming through one’s collected memories of life and marvelling at how fast it all goes by. Indeed, the film is an artistic approximation of that very activity (for which there’s a German word, surely), creating a fictional life to look back on in a moment that lasts three hours. And true to real lives, it only has the loosest of narrative arcs to tie it all together.

Showing characters grow up over an extended period of time isn’t an uncommon feat of storytelling in film (and even more so in television, of course). But it’s rare, perhaps even unprecedented; to see it done the way it is in Boyhood, with all the characters ageing in real time over the course of a single film. It reminds of Linklater’s own Before trilogy, which charts the course of a relationship over nearly two decades, with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke playing the young-to-middle-aged couple as they age.

Linklater shot the project over 12 years (starting in 2002), meeting every year for a few days to film his actors as they moved through time along with their fictional counterparts. It’s something of a marvel that the filmcoheres as well as it does, or that it exists at all (with none of the cast bowing out over the years, and the young boy at its centre turning into a young adult actor with the credibility to hold it all together). It’s one of the decade’s most quietly ambitious films, growing old with its characters and its director (who, as a Texan and a parent, surely sees the film as somewhat autobiographical in its portrayal of both a Texas childhood and the bittersweet travails of parenting).