We learned in high school what a bildungsroman is–it’s an genre that demonstrates the coming-of-age of the main character of a novel. It’s when the protagonist matures enough to combine the delicacies of his or her childhood innocence and the grounded reality as they reach the age of maturation. It’s a term mainly applied to novels, but has since transitioned to the medium of film. We have “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” one of the most beloved movies of this decade, “The Kite Runner,” a majestic maturation of Amir as he moves from Afghanistan to America, and “Harry Potter,” the series that stupefied fans who practically grew up with Harry in the books. These are classic examples of the concept of a bildungsroman in the medium of film; however, “Boyhood” changes the classic perception forever.
“Boyhood,” for those who haven’t heard, was filmed over a span of twelve years, from 2002 to 2014. It focuses on a young boy from Texas, Mason Evans Jr. (played by Ellar Coltrane), as he grows up, and it presents the different obstacles he faces in his maturation. “Boyhood” has no central plot, and many might be taken aback at first by viewing it, but it accomplishes something that no other film nominated for Best Picture accomplishes–the verisimilitude of experience. It uses popular culture and 21st century language to form a moving picture that the audience can relate to. There is a scene in the film where Mason and his friends go to a midnight release of the sixth Harry Potter book back in 2007, and I felt a sense of nostalgia that rapidly attached me to the screen. I felt for Mason, as I experienced the things he did.
Different people can see different aspects of their lives in Mason, especially those the same age as him. He experiences his parents’ divorce, his mother’s remarriage, drugs, alcohol, sex and more. Each little thing that he goes through connects with a different audience member. It’s like watching your childhood right in front of you, and “Boyhood” does it in such a way that isn’t pretentious, overly artistic or abstract. It does it in a way that supports the meaning of a coming-of-age archetype– and it does so with grace. There are no big set pieces or action sequences, and everything is supported by the fantastic set of supporting actors who pull the movie through its somewhat long runtime (approximately three hours). Take Ethan Hawke, who plays Mason’s biological father who helps Mason along his path to adulthood. Hawke plays a character who wants the best for his son, but unfortunately appears distant due to a divorce between himself and Mason’s mother. Mason certainly does cling on to his father, but he struggles with the duality of his parents’ divorce. Choosing his father would mean violating his mother’s wishes, but over time the idea of having the best of both worlds is something that becomes more viable. Mason’s mother, played by the ingenious Patricia Arquette (who is nominated for Best Supporting Actress and is set to win) delivers a performance that mothers will relate to. She plays a character of sacrifice, a character who loves her children and wants the best for them. Every single marriage or relationship she deals with was to better the living condition of herself and her children. Most of those relationships turned abusive or non-responsive, but that didn’t stop Mason’s mother from striving for the betterment of her daughter and son. She eventually achieves her Ph.D, but when she finally looks back at her life, the children she tries to protect throughout the film have moved on from their childhood. There’s not much left for Arquette’s character, as she breaks down when Mason, now eighteen, moves onto his college career. It’s one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the entire film, and Arquette performs it with sincerity.
Arquette and Hawke drive the more emotional components of the story, but it’s actually Mason’s character that surprises and entices. Watching him grow up in a matter of three hours is engaging and bittersweet. Coltrane plays a lovable child in the beginning of the film but eventually turns into a character that is less likeable– his personality at an older age is much like a combination of an angsty teenager and a hipster. He falls in love with photography and speaks in awkward overtones as he ages, and it’s kind of sad to see him like that. But, of course, this film describes the journey of boyhood, and doesn’t fiddle around much with the actual destination that Mason reaches. Though Mason does become slightly annoying toward the end of the film, we have to consider the circumstances that led to the evolution of his character. We have to analyze his boyhood as a rate of maturity over time–we cannot measure the endpoint of his character. That’s what makes this film so tantalizing. It’s a modern interpretation of time and its effects.
Overall, “Boyhood” is a film that deserves much praise, even when it recieved a ridiculous amount of hype during its original limited release back in June. It’s not quite a defining cinematic achievement on the level of “The Godfather” or “Avatar,” but it is still a fundamental movie that deserves a viewing –maybe even multiple–for it encourages its viewers to watch it over and over again for the truth that it lays out during its runtime. No, it has no tangible plot, but it surely does have eternal truth that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Usmani is a member of the class of 2017.