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Boyhood’s 12 Year Timeline Blurs The Line Between Film And Reality

Boyhood came out on June 5, 2014, and if you only trust one piece of advice that I give you today, let it be to watch this movie.

Hopefully you’ve heard of it, from when it was the hottest thing at Sundance, although I’d also understand if you hadn’t, because it’s not your average blockbuster. It’s a simple, honest movie about the life of a boy from age five to eighteen. That’s all. It stars Ellar Coltrane as the boy, Mason, Lorelei Linklater as his sister, Samantha, and Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as his biological parents, although various stepparents also flit through in the intervening years.

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But cast aside, the most important and intriguing part of this film is that it was shot by director Richard Linklater over an actual twelve-year time span. They began shooting in the summer of 2002 and got together for a short period every year until 2013, so as far as Mason, they started with a seven-year old and ended with an eighteen year old (Ellar’s birthday is in August, so they’d completed filming before his nineteenth birthday).

And you guys, the end result is incredible. You watch this person and these people change in not just emotional ways, but physical ones. You see Mason get taller, hear his voice drop, see him grow facial hair, and watch his face shape change, but at the end of the day (or the twelve years, I guess), he’s still the same person, so there’s a really beautiful through-line throughout the entire piece.

After all, with the amount that you change over your entire childhood, it would have read as disingenuous for Ellar to pretend along the way to be something that he’s not. His acting style would surely have changed in that time, so the really elegant solution that Richard Linklater seems to have come to is not to have Ellar act at all. Everyone in this movie is their real selves in invented situations, which is always the instruction we were asked to embody during my college stage theater training, so it’s both refreshing and thrilling to see it played out on the big screen.

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And just to contribute to the realness vibe, the writing was done on a yearly basis as well, sometimes getting finished the night before filming, just to keep everything feeling natural. And not only that, but the actors were actually encouraged to contribute stories and details from their own lives, in order to more closely weave themselves into the narrative.

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Other films have buckled before under that much thought and pressure, but Boyhood thrives under it. You end up with a living, breathing portrait of a cast and crew’s twelve years together, woven seamlessly into a story of love, family, division, change, and Patricia Arquette’s haircuts. It’s a masterpiece, and you’ll leave the theater feeling profoundly aware of not only the power, but the true potential of film.

Go on, go see it. Getchya mind blown.


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