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Best of summer review: “Boyhood”

By Muhammad MuzammalCOLUMNIST

boyhoodI’m 7 years old. I sit in the back of my dad’s large red durango truck, off to move to Long Island and away from my friends in Virginia. I get their numbers, I promise to call, but I know and they know it won’t happen. I look out the window, observe the clouds and think about the new life I’ll live.

I’m 16 years old... My parents’ marriage is about to break, crumple and fall apart. I see it in my father’s eyes and my mother’s face. I see what once was an established union can barely live on. I see the arguments, the loneliness and the dread they each carry day after day. I see the effect on my little sisters and how each has grown up.

I’m 20 years old. I’ve had my first serious relationship. I witnessed the heartbreak, the pain, the agony, the hurt and the anger that love brings. But I’ve also seen the recovery that comes from making mistakes and the friendships that last because of that knowledge. I sense the maturity, I feel it but I know it’s not fully there.

All this ran through my head as I viewed Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” a movie about life and all things that come from living it. The film chronicles the 12-year journey of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from the tiny, precocious age of six to the rebellious, ready-to-be-overwhelmed-by-adulthood age of 18.

The film is masterful in its looseness and how it never seems to be fully focused on just one character or theme. It shows Mason’s relationships with his supporting sister (Lorlei Linklater), his strong, yet beaten down mother (Patricia Arquette) and his fearful, insecure, but loving father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). We see Mason’s first experience with drugs, his first serious relationship, the failed marriages of his mother, the growth of his devoted father and finally, his unwavering curiosity.

This curiosity causes him to ponder the meaning of life, how to successfully live life, not mess up and eventually find his true calling, if there even is such a thing.

I watched my own baby sister grow up. I see myself and Mason in her. I hate how I can’t protect her from life’s misfortunes, from the pain and grief that comes from loss, frustration and time. That second shot of Mason shows a boy: a small kid like all of us who doesn’t know what the next 12 years holds. He doesn’t realize that the real enemy behind losing the joy and innocence of childhood is also the film’s greatest asset: time.

We watch movies. We know they are an illusion, that one scene cuts and goes to the next scene. We know it’s not real.

Linklater directed his cast of  four principal actors for a week every year over a period of 12 years. Time has never been used this masterfully in a movie before. Editor Sandra Adair crafts the movie so well that it doesn’t feel like a theatrical act. It runs a dense 164 minutes but it’s rapidly paced and ends before you know it, like the years we’ve spent living, like the life we have recorded so far.

“Boyhood” conveys the concept that we never stop learning and we never stop growing. There is no end to learning the mysteries of life that Mason tries so hard to explore near the movie’s ending. He’s a thinker that asks his father, teachers and peers about the intricacies of life, all while Linklater attempts to display the very thing that separates us as a species from others: the human condition.

We all age, we all progress through the years and we are all here in college, for a reason. It is to become something, to be someone, to exceed our potential. It is thus fitting that we should all watch a movie like “Boyhood” that recognizes our shared humanity and the unique individualism found in each person. Through Mason’s persistent wonder of life, the movie pushes us to ask the biggest question of all: what is the meaning of all this?

Linklater wisely never provides an answer. That’s not his goal. Just like his flawed, vibrant hero, he asks questions and wants us to join him. It adds up to social conditioning, and how we let the moments of life control us instead of actually being in control of them.

Despite my analysis for the film, I know that I’m only a young college student. It could take me years to figure out what Mason’s mother and father, both who were once passionately in love but now separated, are all about. It could take me decades to truly understand Mason’s mother when she cries at the end about half her life being spent on failed courtships and moving to different locations. It could take me my whole life to fully comprehend all the great things that “Boyhood” encompasses.

This is more than a film; it’s an experience that is like all of us: once in a lifetime, beautiful, human and glorious.

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