Last night, Mrs Heathen and I went to see Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s awesome, high-wire act of a film, with some friends of ours. You probably know by now that he started shooting the story of Mason in 2002, when Mason (and the obviously unknown Ellar Coltrane who plays him) was six years old. The shooting continued, a few weeks every year, until 2013, which allowed Mason, his sister (played by Linklater’s own daughter), and his parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) to age onscreen honestly and genuinely. Watching Mason grow and mature from scene is amazing and thrilling, but is balanced by the changes we see in Arquette (34 in 2002; 46 today) and Hawk (32 to 42) as they shift into middle age.
Stunts like this on film (or stage) can be interesting from a technical perspective, but fail when measured by more conventional means. That doesn’t happen here. What Linklater has done is absolutely amazing: it’s an astounding feat of logistics and focus over time, obviously, but also a film of stunning beauty, honesty, and grace. Of course, “real” aging on screen has been done in other ways, including within Linklater’s own filmography. The comparisons to Apted’s “Up” series are inevitable, and the film itself nods to another pop culture phenomenon with similar themes — but in all those examples, we’ve been obliged to wait out the clock in real time. Here, Mason literally grows up right in front of us in less than three hours, with no special effects or other trickery. It’s an incredible and unprecedented thing elevated even further by being, at its core, a great coming of age story (except it’s not just Mason’s; it’s the coming of age of his family, too).
The Guardian’s review is worth your time. Watch the videos. Then see this film. We may see it again, even.
(Oh, amusing note: Ellar Coltrane was born right about the time I moved to Houston in 1994.)