Art is a way of preserving our lives, of defeating mortality and time, trumping the half-life of biological memory. Boyhood implies that everything we do is artful, in that sense. In its snapshot of an unexceptional life, the film immortalizes the grace and effort behind the development of a single human being. It’s why the film’s titled Boyhood, even though Mason’s a boy for only half the movie. Childhood often feels safe in recall because it’s the point in our lives when we still have time to become better human beings, when we have nothing but potential to become special. But it can also be a time of great fear, of confusion at how the world beyond one’s family works. Adulthood is realizing we’ll never be special, even though we all are, due to the trick of human sentience. It’s realizing we’ll always have a semblance of that childish fear, of that confusion at the world beyond the embrace of one’s childhood guardians.
Boyhood is special, and it isn’t. There’s nothing here that stands out and shouts “masterpiece” in showy fashion. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been covered by numerous coming-of-age films, including Linklater’s own sublime Dazed and Confused (1993). It’s the cumulative emotional impact of Boyhood’s cinematic collage of human growth that makes it one of the best movies of this and the previous decade.