words_juan antonio bisono. photo_mongrelmedia
There’s a sequence in Richard Linklater’s boyhood where the mother, played by Patricia Arquette, delivers a heartbreaking monologue about the passing of time. It’s one of several signature dramatic moments in a film full of them. It’s the final nail in the coffin, and the scene that brings on the film’s resolution. What’s most ironic about that, is how the movie leaves you feeling like the story is barely getting started.
The backstory to the movie has been mythologized through social media and the Internet thoroughly. Richard Linklater began shooting his film in 2002, chronologically depicting the life of a family, until the year 2013. The film is impressive because it was shot throughout so many years, but still works flawlessly. It’s the kind of feat that not only succeeds because it’s a nifty idea, but also because there’s a clear intentionality to it. About an hour into the film you can’t help but realize the director is trying to recreate the ebbs and flows of real human life. There is no fiction in the movie, except the fact that it’s not real. But the characters here all err uncontrollably, none of them makes any heroic attempt to win you over, but they don’t have to. These people are so real they might as well live next door. You relate to them and sympathize.
The kid, Mason Jr., is supposed to be the breakout star in this film. It’s certainly been marketed that way. But, the film is about more than him. It’s about all the people in the film, there are bit actors that appear for seconds but leave a lasting impression. It’s just like reality, where a small special encounter can completely change a person’s story. It’s also a great feeling to see Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette do so well in such subtle but emotionally charged performances. I kept wanting to hug them. These are two actors that have been through the ringer, and the spotlight ceased to love them. Here its easy to see why, they don’t need our approval anymore. The performances aren’t meant to surprise or change you. They’re meant to be you. The acting screams of contentment and understanding. It’s not meant to impress, but it’s really impressive.
It’s interesting that the movie is told from the point of view of Mason Jr. We see him change; the pacing of time is established through how he grows in and out of puberty and pain. It allows us to relate to him and appreciate his life, the conflicts here aren’t meant to be compelling just to give him and his family room to grow. But, there is no three-act structure here. It’s a sprawling, flawed, beautiful arrangement of movement: in other words, life. The movie wants to give you you’re past back and let you remember and reflect.
Halfway through it, I thought to myself: “I’m reliving my life.” Twenty minutes later, I wasn’t sure I was enjoying the experience. But, when it was all done, I couldn’t help but look down at the floor, my eyes watered down, my legs weak, and my skin cold. What a beautiful way to look at life, I thought. Even when it hurts, it’s great. Watch this film, let it show you how ragged life is, and how wonderful it is anyways.