Boyhood (2014): The Moment Seizes Us

Boyhood is a groundbreaking film. It has taken director Richard Linklater twelve years to shoot, most uniquely, with the same cast. The actors had to commit to many annual shootings over this twelve-year period. This is not a documentary. Written by Linklater himself, the film follows a linear narrative storyline of a boy named Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, who is very patient indeed; he had to wait twelve years to have his work put on screen.

We first see Mason in 2001 when he is just six years old starting grade one and 165 minutes later, we see him at eighteen, entering college. He literally grows up in front of our eyes. You may shrug with a casual, ‘Ok… so what?’

Here are the implications of what this all means in the hands of a director with the gift of depicting perceptively the essence of human relationships, most notably, from his trilogy Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), Before Midnight (2013). The passage of time is prominent in his trilogy with the films screened nine years apart. In there, we follow the chance meeting of actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy on a train to their married life eighteen years later. While time is also of the essence here (just a pun, no hurry), Boyhood has a distinct difference.


Like time-lapse photography of a seedling to fruition we used to watch in biology class, Boyhood captures the life of Mason in one seamless unity. The editing is fluid and smooth. We see the passage of time from the games he plays (from Game Boy to Xbox to Wii), the social and political changes, the ephemeral shifting of pop culture, especially music (from Coldplay to Arcade Fire and those in between), and the evolving of technology. Most important of all, we see the human factor tossed and carried along in the current of time.

Linklater leads us to see Mason in the context of his family life, or whatever that defines it. What I see is not a happy boyhood. At the beginning of the film, Mason and his two-year-older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) have to leave their friends and move from small town Texas to Houston, where their determined single-parent mom (Patricia Arquette) can attend college to improve her job prospect. During this time, their divorced and absent dad (Ethan Hawke) suddenly reappears back into their lives.

Dad brings joy to the children. He is full of life and cares about them, at least while it is his turn to take them out. This may be ordinary in America nowadays, divorced parenthood, but I see the yearning in the hearts of the children on screen for a happy, reconciled family. There is deeper pain than just the loneliness we see on the surface of Mason and Samantha.

The brilliance of the director is in the captivating telling of what seems to be an ordinary, typical childhood. In a realistic style as if allowing me the viewer to be an invisible observer, Linklater makes me care for every member of this family.

But the character I find most admirable is mom Olivia. She does her best to improve her lot for the sake of her children. Her decisions may not be welcomed by them, and she makes mistakes, but she sticks to her guns with what she thinks is right and presses on. Ultimately she reaches her goal in getting a college teaching post. Arquette’s performance is understated and affective. My prediction is a possible acting nomination(s) for her come Awards Season.

We soon see Olivia remarry, this time to her psychology professor Bill (Marco Perella). It turns out to be a mistake. Bill later reveals himself to be a controlling alcoholic, abusive to his wife and kids. While Mason and Samantha gain a pair of step brother and sister of their own age, they now live under the roof of a harsh disciplinarian stepfather.

A poignant scene which I will not easily forget is after an abusive episode, Olivia disappears. Unable to find his wife, a fuming Bill has all four children sit on the sofa for interrogation, and gets each of them to hand him his/her cell phone. He checks the messages and usage history to see if any of them has communicated with their mother.

Mason has questioned his mom, “Why do you marry him? He’s a jerk.” Olivia answers, “So you can have a family.” Without missing a beat, he says, “we already have one.” Linklater has me at the edge of the seat, amazing with a film like this, to see how mom Olivia gets herself and her own kids out of such a dire situation under Bill’s roof.

In contrast, it is a joy to see the children with their birth father. And most importably, we see the bond of genuine love between the parents and their children despite the divorce. It is gratifying to see that, through the years, the adults grow up as well.

As time passes, we see Mason emerges to be an artistic youth, with a passion for photography. And yet, like his dad, he disregards rules and structures. We see him continue to seek out what it is that makes life meaningful. And yet, the adults in his life seem to be as confused as he is. Mason sees them make bad choices, struggles with his own, and questions ‘so what’s the point?’ Olivia too, after all that life hands her, and ultimately seeing her kids graduate from high school and herself achieving respectability with her college teaching career, utters “I just thought there will be more.”

Eventually, we see Mason at eighteen. The film ends with his first day of settling in a college dorm. He quickly makes friend with his roommate and his girlfriend and her roommate. They skip the orientation and go hiking. On the mountainous path, they sit down and talk, young people facing a brand new chapter in their lives. Like the vast mountain ranges, their future lays out in front of them, appealing and yet full of challenges and mystery. We see too that Mason has found a new soulmate as the girl shares with him, “You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us.”

As the film fades to black, I breathe out a sigh of relief. At least, there’s no irreparable disaster. No matter what has happened in the past twelve years, the present is most livable, and the future is hopeful.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples 


Awards Update:

Feb. 22, 2015: Patricia Arquette wins Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Feb. 21, 2015: Patricia Arquette wins Best Supporting Actress at Indie Spirit Awards, Richard Linklater wins Best Director.

Feb. 8, 2015: 3 BAFTAs Wins, Best Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress

Jan. 15, 2015: 6 Oscar noms, Best Picture, Best Director, Actor, Actress, Original Screenplay, Editing.

Jan. 11, 2015: 3 Golden Globe wins, Best Picture Drama, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress.

Dec. 11: 5 Golden Globes noms: Best Picture – Drama, Richard Linklater for Best Director and Best Screenplay, Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke for Best Supporting Actress and Actor.

Dec. 10: 3 SAG Noms: Best Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, Best Male Supporting Actor, Best Female Supporting Actor

Dec.7: Boyhood wins Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Editing in the L.A. Film Critics Awards

Dec. 7: Boyhood wins Best International Independent Film Award at BIFA (UK)

Dec.1: Boyhood wins Best Picture, Richard Linklater Best Director, Patricia Arquette Best Supporting Actress from the New York Film Critics Circle

Dec.1: Boyhood wins Audience Award at Gotham Awards 2014

Other Related Posts:

Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight

The Tree Of Life

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

28 thoughts on “Boyhood (2014): The Moment Seizes Us”

  1. I so want to see this but my film going friend couldn’t make it (childcare) and I have promised her we will have an evening in when it comes out on DVD.

    Last night in town I walked past a screening and wanted to be in there!

    It must be scary to invest that much time in a film artistically. But I imagine that the gamble pays off psychically, if that makes sense. ie the level of investment seeps into the film and imbues it with something your average film will never have.

    I am wondering whether I will be able to watch Ethan Hawke play a father without expecting Julie Delpy pop up on screen.


    1. Denise,

      You’ll be surprised as to how easy it is to see Ethan Hawke as dad to Mason and Samantha. That’s the mark of a good actor. Hopefully you’ll have a chance to see this on the big screen. I always feel I enjoy a film much more watching it in a theatre than at home. Maybe it’s the total darkness and full attention I can give it. Especially this one that’s almost three hours in length, watching it at home one is bound to be distracted by other things. You’re welcome to stop by again and share your thoughts once you’ve seen it. 😉


  2. Interesting you latched onto the closing moment – the defining moment for me was the mother crying out half laughing/mostly sad, “I thought there would be more than this.” She captured my thoughts on the film, and many peoples’ thoughts on life…perfectly.


    1. David,

      Yes, I quoted that too, third last paragraph. That and ‘so what’s the point?’ Anyway, it’s the existential queries that make the film meaningful. Or else, the 12-year in the making could be just a technical novelty and nothing else.


  3. This sounds totally fascinating. Jon Stewart was raving about it when Richard Linklater was on — after reading this, I can see why. Hopefully I’ll catch it before it makes its quick departure!


    1. Stefanie,

      Yes, this is groundbreaking filmmaking. But it’s the story and characters behind the method that make it meaningful, and not just a gimmick.


  4. I LOVED this movie! I may see only a few movies this year (two so far) because of childcare issues, and I’m so glad this is one of them! Hobgoblin and I spent at least an hour talking about it afterward. I loved how we get the children’s stories, but the parents’ stories are complex and interesting as well. It’s a film about parenthood as much as it is about boyhood, and there’s even a lot about girlhood too. I wanted it to be longer.


    1. Rebecca,

      I’m so glad you did have the chance to see it with Hobgoblin, and found you’d made the right choice, if you’re going to just see a few films in the whole year. You’re absolutely right, it’s about girlhood (Samantha have more to say about her life situation than her little brother Mason), and definitely, it’s about parenthood.


  5. Haven’t seen it yet Arti, but will definitely keep my eyes open. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette are both fine actors. Sounds like a story that many families could relate to.


    1. Grace,

      Yes, something we call all relate to. We’ve all gone through boyhood or girlhood, even if we aren’t parents, we have parents. Hope you’ll have the chance to see it.


  6. Wow, this sounds like an impressive film in so many aspects. Twelve years! I just finished reading Eleanor and Park (Rowell) and thought of the similarities in abusive second marriages. Not sure if the kids expressed “we already have one (a family)” explicitly, but the sentiment is there.


  7. I finally got to see this a week or so ago, Arti. Your review is excellent and captures just about everything I’d want to say. I thought, to use a cliche, that last scene with Olivia was awfully poignant. Arquette is a great actor. Would love to see her get a nomination. And the final scene was beautifully done too. Nice, forward looking, but not overly schmaltzy.

    I was, though, sorry that the script had Oliva make bad partner decisions again and again, while the Dad matured and made a good one. That didn’t appeal to my sense of fairness! Not that the Dad (forgotten his name) didn’t deserve to grow but she deserved happiness too! I guess life just isn’t fair.

    And one final comment. The editing was wonderful. You could usually tell the transitions, though a couple were tricky, but it was always done beautifully and appropriately. A wonderful and ambitious film that he pulled off. Amazing.


    1. WG,

      Indeed, don’t we wish to see her get a better life after all these years. The Dad BTW is Ethan Hawke. He and Julie Delpy have been doing Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy: Before Sunset, Sunrise, Midnight. He’s quite a versatile guy. When I was at TIFF in Sept., I saw the doc he made on the pianist Seymour Bernstein. That was quite inspiring.

      And yes, I hope Boyhood will get some Oscar noms., esp. for Patricia Arquette who plays Olivier, as well as Linklater for directing. The film ought to get a nom for Best Picture.


      1. Sorry, Arti, I was ambiguous , yes I knew it was Hawke. It was his name in the film I didn’t remember. I’ve seen two of that trilogy. I missed the first one. Must catch it as I loved the other two.


  8. makes you wonder in a deep thought. Once life passing through a certain path,a path where one can never see beyond a mile. The way ppl affect on each others’ lives and be part. There is just so much to see on this one and even the other trilogy I saw “before mid night”
    might seem an ordinary life but the way it is presented and directed, is so brilliant!!
    perfect acting,perfect ending and great review by Arti. you said it all.


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