In the history of cinema, many films have—successfully and unsuccessfully—tried to capture childhood and the fleeting nature of life, yet “coming-of-age” stories are often hard to portray naturally in film. Growing up, an idea that every human being can relate to, is an ongoing process. As a result, showing that unforgettable development in one movie, which is usually shot in a few months if not weeks, is a challenge.
Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood, released in July to audiences in the United States, has received a lot attention for its groundbreaking method of filming with the same cast over 12 years. Linklater, who wrote and directed the film, revealed last year that he had been working on this project for over a decade, working with the same actors throughout the early years of the 21st century. The audience observes the children mature while the adults age and gray.
The plot focuses on the lives of Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane); his sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater); his single-mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette); and his father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). Although the making of the movie was a 12-year process, each year would be filmed in only a couple of days, allowing the involved actors to work on other film projects at the same time.
The film examines the struggles of both divorced parents as Mason Sr. and Olivia engage themselves in various relationships. Olivia—who tries to remarry and settle down—endures numerous relationship problems. Mason Sr., who is free-spirited and goes through several jobs, only eventually settling down. In the meantime, the kids mature, watching the adults in their lives and progressively exploring the unknown world of adulthood. Mason and Samantha begin to think about sex, college, and the biggest choice of all: what they will do in life.
Boyhood is simply a portrayal of life; there are no extreme dramatic plot twists or events. “There’s a certain commonality to growing up,” Linklater said during a featurette by IFC films. “There’s something so normal in a certain way about Mason’s story that I really always felt it would be about moments everyone shares.”
Brought to life by the physical as well as emotional transformations in the characters, the film is unique because of its lengthy filming process. Linklater decided on 12 years because this would be the amount of time spent in public school, ending with going off to college and leaving home. Boyhood was filmed in a mere 39 spread-out shooting days, with a relatively low budget of $200,000 per year. Every year, the cast would have a reunion where they filmed some scenes. As a result, it is more like a growing progression of short movies with a recurring cast. There are no specific timestamps, however, and the sense of the passing of material time can only be perceived by references to popular culture, technology, news or “current” events, and physical changes in the characters.
“I was trying to make a movie about childhood,” Linklater said. “The film was going to capture this fictional family aging over 12 years. It’s not a documentary—it’s a story.” Through its storytelling, Boyhood plays with the concept of time and its effect on human growth. The movie’s musings on childhood and parenthood all revolve around that idea of a lifetime, a journey, and a transformation. Ultimately, the movie leaves the audience to reflect on both their own lives as well as the value of each fleeting moment.