What a slice of life!
Boyhood isn’t Everyman’s journey and isn’t even centered around boyhood as such-as it is around growing up, and very much so in the first third of the film. We might say it’s a natural process of forming an identity, where those first years of life are intertwined with your family and siblings, in this case, a mother, sister and absent father.
In this part of the film we form a sense of first experiences and family interaction through slices of life that jump years in shots. Tastefully executed, and bearing a hint of the times (years in which the scenes were shot) in the clothing, even in the camera work. Exhibiting the quiet life where much is said within the shot without words, i.e. the scene where Mason doesn’t even have the chance to say goodbye to his (potentially first?) friend driving off looking at him thorough the rolled down backseat window of his moms station wagon (exclaiming that it’s his moms car, keeping with the theme of responsibility which arises later on in the story when Mason confronts his father about the inheritance of his dads muscle car), visual poetry without excessive suggestion or explanation. Life is like that, sometimes things just happen and we have no control. His older sister Samantha being very much a part of the plot and life portrayed during those initial years ( she recedes into the background as the film unwinds as she herself is growing up) as well as his mother is a statement that we do not form our identities in vacuum. Yes, science has brought us realizations that our genetic code carries much of our identity inscribed within us but it has also taught us that the first years of life are essential to how we will develop as people.
Mason and his sister are fatherless for long periods of time, their mother in emotional and financial turmoil and with no place to call home in a sense of identifying with a location or surroundings. That plays out gracefully and introspectively in Masons quiet mumbling and “in his own world“ type of behavior when reaching puberty. Ethan Hawke’s (Mason Sr.) role as the fun and wisdom filled father who is himself floating around is a testament to the humanistic, American renegade archetype that his character exhibits. His tendency to pop into his children’s lives and pop out is a result of his own irresponsibility (he is the musician/slacker/nice guy) which leads Patricia Arquette (Olivia, the mom) to distance herself and the kids from him. The end result being a mix of letdown experiences throughout her life (a series of clunky failed marriages with dubious men) and a rocky path for her children to accompany. In the tradition of doing her best (a personal plateau does not constitute a good decision) in a patriarchal Texas society, pushing away the slacker father and raising the kids on her own (3 failed marriages) is a tough call to make and a uncertain path to take. She gets herself into trouble, but tries to get them all out of it every time she does produce such a situation. An ambivalent character, trying, doing her best!?
The pop references that are placed in the narrative are Mason watching Dragon ball Z cartoons, sleeping with a DBZ themed blanket when youngest. At age thirteen or so mentioning Emo music in conversation, wearing nail polish and having bangs over his face. During this period we get a glimpse of his room and his graffiti tendencies. Finally having the conversation with his mother on the day when leaving for college where he mentions that his roommate listens to Bright Eyes, so he concludes he can’t be a bad guy. Later on in the film/in his life, Mason acquires a lust for photography, his transformative hobby that leads him on a path to becoming an adult, even an artist perhaps. Linklater obviously collaborated with Ellar Coltrane (playing Mason) in a true life sort of way, incorporating parts of Ellar’s life into the narrative of this better to say experience than movie. The authenticity of the American malaise is something that is a part of Linklaters oeuvre, it is at the core of the majority of his most acclaimed work.
Wonderfully stitched together, we can not be left but feeling immensely impressed by all the shades of gray that Linklater has shown in this 13 year long cinematic experiment. May Ellar grow up to be a wholesome person, and with friends like Richard and experiences like these, it seems he just might.