The Longitudinal Approach
Several filmmakers have embraced non-traditional formal strategies to confront the practical and philosophical implications of time passing. Michael Apted, renowned for his extraordinary and distinctive documentary series named …Up, has consistently revisited his subjects every seven years since the project’s inception in 1964, meticulously documenting and analyzing the trajectories of their lives. In the realm of fiction, Lav Diaz, the Filipino director, has continuously attempted to communicate to viewers the enormous effect that time has on us using his reflective and purposefully slow-moving films, some of which run for an astounding eleven hours. In an exploration of metafiction, François Truffaut employed four full-length and one short film, filmed over two decades, to intermittently examine the evolving experiences of Jean-Pierre Léaud’s character, Antoine Doinel. Meanwhile, Michael Winterbottom’s Everyday painstakingly examines the intricate dynamics within the relationship between an incarcerated man and his family. Over five years, the production team meticulously crafted it, intermittently shooting over several weeks.
Arguably, Everyday serves as the most apparent precursor to Richard Linklater’s 16th feature film, Boyhood, even though it’s likely that the former developed after the latter. This conclusion arises from the film being shot in Texas over an incredible 12-year period, from 2002 to 2013. The film’s notable aspect is the consistent presence of a stable core cast throughout its expansive timeline. Ellar Coltrane played the main character, and Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter, assumed the role of his sister Samantha. Patricia Arquette played the character of mother Olivia, and Ethan Hawke portrayed father Mason Sr. The purposeful continuity of its cast members over the twelve-year production enhances the film’s unique narrative coherence and chronological authenticity. Linklater consistently addresses potentially significant and wide-ranging subject matter with his distinctive and understated directorial approach. From Slacker, his first film, until Hit Man, Linklater has continuously shown a strong desire to fully inhabit his characters’ lives and pay close attention to how they interact with the people around them. Linklater forges a unique cinematic style by eschewing traditional storytelling conventions, prioritizing the authentic development of characters and genuine human experiences in the narrative rather than inserting contrived and forced dramatic arcs. Linklater’s directing style distinguishes his work; he opts for a more intimate and contemplative exploration of the human condition, eschewing grandiosity.
Examining the differences in storytelling, pacing, and continuity between Diaz’s works, Winterbottom’s Everyday, and Linklater’s Boyhood is necessary to compare their cinematic techniques. While the film stands out for extensively employing the same ensemble, Diaz’s deliberate pacing and Winterbottom’s contemplative manner offer different cinematic experiences. Diaz’s films frequently feature prolonged durations and delve into socio-political themes, intending to immerse viewers thoroughly in the intricacies of the narrative. The deliberate slow pacing immerses viewers in the characters and the evolving storyline. This deliberate pace strategy is a stylistic decision that, in contrast to the film’s more traditional narrative framework, produces a distinct viewing experience. Filmed across five years at irregular intervals, Winterbottom’s Everyday employs a novel technique to show the passage of time through the characters’ progressive changes. In addition to experimenting with storytelling through an extended duration and a consistent cast, the narrative authentically portrays the actors’ aging and changing circumstances. The film by Winterbottom encourages audiences to consider the finer points of relationships, life, and personal development. Boyhood stands out for its use of a consistent ensemble over 12 years, allowing the actors and characters to mature organically. Due to this sustained continuity, audience members can witness the long-term evolution of the characters, contributing to a distinctive and immersive viewing experience. Between deliberate continuity as a narrative experiment, the film presents a unique perspective on time and the human condition.
Boyhood moves quickly and unavoidably in a straight line across time, following strict chronological order. The 165-minute film impressively captures a feeling of remarkable minimalism. The narrative primarily consists of quiet yet poignant moments that adeptly communicate the subtleties of human experience over this time frame. Intimate moments, minute details, and subtle, almost imperceptible editorial ellipses distinguish the film’s narrative flow. Notably, infrequent alcohol-related family disputes and heartbreaking separations that interrupt the general tranquility accentuate the critical moments in the story. Rather than in its dramatic moments, Linklater presents a unique viewpoint, asserting that life’s meaning lies in the small accumulation of minute details. Linklater opts to delve into the intricate fabric of daily life, rejecting the clichéd depictions of embarrassing virginity loss and the standard narrative trappings of wedding rituals. His directing style finds joy in life’s little details, giving meaning to events that might seem insignificant, like an unwelcome haircut or a casual trip to the bowling alley.
Investigation of Family Dynamics
At the beginning of Boyhood, Mason, the juvenile lead character, is presented as an unmarked, open-faced canvas, merely watching the world around him. His manner is one of receptivity, marked by a cautious stare that stealthily takes in the subtleties of his environment. Samantha, Mason’s older sister, assumes a more prominent role in this stage of development, gaining attention for her lively and often humorous personality. She develops into a compelling character within the story, adding humor and picaresque antics to moments and so adding to the dynamic and changing family and social dynamics shown in the film. The dynamic between Samantha’s vibrant, attention-grabbing personality and Mason’s receptive innocence forms a complex and evolving sibling connection that serves as the foundation for the developing story in the film. As the narrative unfolds, Mason undergoes noticeable changes, likely in response to the contrasting alpha-male dynamics exhibited by his mother’s subsequent heavy-drinking companions following Mason Sr.’s departure. Over time, Mason evolves into the quintessential Linklater character, displaying the characteristics of an inquisitive, selectively talkative, and mildly nonconformist dreamer. There is a conceptual consistency throughout the director’s body of work, as evidenced by the similarities this archetype depiction has with other iconic Linklater protagonists, including the portrayal of Wiley Wiggins in Dazed and Confused and Waking Life.
At least in part, the magic in Boyhood emanates from the constant tension generated when the audience acknowledges the bold extra-textual element while presented on screen. Remarkably, Linklater initiated this ambitious filmmaking project at the sixth age without the certainty that Coltrane, the selected protagonist, would naturally evolve into the ideal embodiment of the lead role. Inherently, selecting cast members involves speculation, and the filmmaker had to take a gamble on Coltrane’s sustained commitment to the extensive project. Linklater threads his consistent hallmark of compassion towards his characters throughout the film, coupled with an unwavering deep narrative tone. The director defines his unique storytelling style by sincerely caring for the complex portrayal of his characters, establishing an empathic bond with the viewer. This compassion saturates the entire film, enhancing the realism and sincerity of the characters’ experiences.
Critics of films with unusual narrative patterns, like Boyhood, might have trouble understanding the story and making emotional or intellectual connections. The absence of a coherent plot and the dearth of dramatic tension poses challenges for viewers seeking a deeper connection with the film. Furthermore, the film’s extended duration of over ten years might deter viewers with limited patience or those who prefer narratives in shorter formats. However, it depends a lot on personal preference and the willingness of the audience to embrace a break from conventional narrative patterns. Individuals who appreciate and find fulfillment in the subtle evolution of characters throughout the story will discover the film’s unique style to be profoundly enlightening. In other words, the film’s idiosyncrasies prove advantageous for viewers who appreciate deviations from the conventional norms in cinematic storytelling.
Carefully selected tunes from popular culture are thoughtfully integrated into Boyhood to establish coherence and a melodic thread that ties the story together. The film underscores its distinctive aesthetic by using solely 35mm film for its cinematography. This decision is historically significant as 35mm film was widely used in 2002, contrasting sharply with the more prevalent digital filmmaking techniques. In this aspect, the film goes beyond being just a cinematic narrative; it evolves into a deeper art form, subtly protesting against the gradual decline of the 35mm film format. The film aptly earns its title by centering on the personal and experiential journey of Mason, the main character. This emphasis becomes evident in the opening scene, where Mason is portrayed in contemplation, gazing upward. But the film goes beyond the bounds of its title to become a powerful and engrossing investigation of family dynamics, deftly capturing the nuanced relationships within the familial domain. The picture is elevated and given a sense of sincerity and depth by Arquette and Hawke’s respective performances as the estranged parents.
- Bradshaw, P. (2014). Boyhood review – one of the great films of the decade. The Guardian.
- Clark, A. (2016). Film of the week: Boyhood. BFI.
- Molotkow, A. (2014). Boyhood: A film that’s beautiful or horrific, depending on how you look at it. The Globe and Mail.
- Seitz, M. Z. (2014). Boyhood. Roger Ebert.