Richard Linklater is one of the most unique filmmakers - his stories have an original voice and his filmmaking stands apart from the others in the industry in a big way. None of his films follow the ‘rules’ of filmmaking. In Waking Life he combined animation and existentialism. In School of Rock he brought out a social message in the form of a warm-hearted comedy. In Before Sunrise he took a camera and followed two people improvising on set. In A Scanner Darkly he shot the film and rotoscoped every single frame of the film to give it a look in the bridge between animation and real life.
And yet nothing comes close to the vision and ambition of his newest film Boyhood. He has attempted and ultimately achieved something no other fiction filmmaker has. Linklater cast a six-year-old boy back in 2002, and made a fictional movie about him for twelve years. He filmed bits of it each year, capturing the boy’s life as he grew up and fusing some real elements of the actor into the story and character. And that’s not all - all the other actors in the film also remain the same, they all span the course of twelve years.
This unique approach gives the film a sense of reality never before seen in cinema. In every other movie ever made, we see a different actor portraying the older version of his character. At most times it’s tacky and unbelievable, and sometimes unintentionally hilarious. There are films that utilize make up effects to showcase the ageing of the characters and it’s been clumsy at best. In Boyhood seeing the same actors age in real time is kind of breathtaking. As the kid (Ellar Coltrane) grows up, the actor inhibiting the character grows up with him. Cleverly, Linklater has woven a story that attaches itself to the gimmick of seeing the boy grow up – it’s a coming of age story where the character experiences the world around him growing up.
Story wise, it isn’t something we haven’t seen before – the trauma of a kid after his parents’ divorce, fights with siblings, the loneliness, the isolation, the hardship of growing up with one parent, the attempt to figure out what he wants to be in life, first love, heartbreak and hope. Thematically Boyhood isn’t anything new, but Linklater’s films have never been about new stories, they’ve always been about showcasing a new way to tell stories that exist within everyone. Like the ‘Before’ films Boyhood entirely consists of scenes where people walk and talk. And like the ‘Before’ films the scenes are mesmerizing, because the dialogue is gorgeous. Linklater’s dissection of life, love and the space between togetherness and isolation is just terrific.
It helps that the actors are so talented, and the film never makes you think there is ‘acting’ going on in front of the camera. Right from the opening scene of the kid looking into the sky, you become a part of the story. You never stop to think these people are actors, you straightaway believe that these characters are real and that the story unfolding in front of you is their actual story. Any other filmmaker would have advertised the effort of making a film for twelve years within the film itself, and would probably have made it a sweeping epic. The great thing about Boyhood is that despite being epic in scale, it is such an intimate, small film. It makes you realize how selfless a person Linklater is, to work on something for more than a decade and not shove that fact down your throat. Another interesting aspect of the film is that the boy himself is the least interesting character of the film – he works as the audiences’ eyes and you’re invited to examine the condition of the characters surrounding the boy.
In case you haven’t figured it out already, the logistics of such an endeavor are mind-boggling. Which is what makes me ask a simple question: how in the world was Boyhood made? As per Hollywood standards one cannot bind anyone to a contract for more than seven years, so making a film for twelve years with the same people would have taken Linklater a Herculean task of convincing everyone to get together for shoots. Not to mention the passion of the producers who realized this project was something original and a once in a lifetime thing, and agreed to give Linklater the creative freedom that he needed. Each segment in the film is a vignette into the boy’s life every year, and Linklater probably shot a short film every year, gathering a megaton of footage to edit it after twelve years. While the making of the film seems more interesting than the film itself, I’d rather not know how it was made. Magic works best when you don’t know what goes on behind the curtain. The boy in the film asks his father if Magic exists, after watching the film I can confirm that it does.
(First published in DNA)