Monday, July 14, 2014


In her essay "A Sketch of the Past," Virginia Woolf wrote, "I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realizes an emotion at the time.  It expands later, and thus we don't have complete emotions about the present, only about the past."

Perhaps that explains why I suddenly found myself inexplicably crying as I made breakfast the morning after seeing Richard Linklater's Boyhood.  (Linklater reportedly wanted to title it "12 Years," the time it spans, until that other movie with the similar title came out.)  Linklater and his editor Sandra Adair seamlessly transition from one year to the next (similar to how Slacker segues from one character to another); the parents don't look all that different, but the changes in the children (one of whom is played by Linklater's daughter Lorelei) are often startling.  

The gestalt of the movie, like its march of time, didn't hit me until the next day--much as it does for Patricia Arquette's character (left), when it finally hits her that her nest is finally about to be emptied.

In Linklater movies, the characters talk.  That's their action.  What they say and what they talk about defines them and the action.  And when you think about it, all of his movies are about deep attachments between and among characters--whether it's the kids in Dazed and Confused or the lovers in the Before trilogy.  So it's no surprise that there's a scene in which Patricia Arquette's character teaches a psych class in John Bowlby's attachment theory.  Maybe I was crying for all those friends and lovers gone, even those for whom I'd lost all affection. Maybe I was tearful because I didn't want the movie to end, and, like Arquette's character, I thought there would be more to life....

Boyhood has been compared to Michael Apted's 7 Up series and also to Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life.  Like the Apted series, Boyhood's premise/structure is genius and yet so simple and elegant it's hard to believe that no one thought of doing it before (it's also amazing that Linklater was able to keep the project secret so long).  Like The Tree of Life, it focuses on a boy's history--here, through time, divorces, stepfamilies, moves to new cities--although one can argue that the film could have been (albeit awkwardly) titled "Personhood," because it's about the evolution (and sometimes devolution) of all the characters.  The Tree of Life was far more imagistic and impressionistic, with little dialogue and more internal whispers.  (For those who hated it, they'd probably say it was a pretentious version of Boyhood.)

That's not to imply that Linklater's work (that's the writer-director above) is not deep or philosophical.  It's rather that what appears ordinary, perhaps simply contemporary or topical, is the Real Thing--is all there is. Like William Carlos Williams' red wheelbarrow, everything depends upon it. The poet Wallace Stevens wrote of "the malady of the quotidian," yet Stevens adhered to a structured daily regimen working as an insurance executive, for God's sake, that fostered his writing.  As he wrote in "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven":

In the end, in the whole psychology, the self,
the town, the weather, in a casual litter,
Together, said words of the world are the life of the world.

In the world of Richard Linklater, a GTO (Linklater owns one, BTW) is the objective correlative of a character.  It's shorthand for everything we need to know about the psyche of the father played by Ethan Hawke (right) at the outset.

The car's emotional significance (and the connection to the father it symbolizes) is underscored by son Mason (Ellar Coltrane) later in the film.  It's not just a car.  It is just a car.  It's that duality that we must accept of life, that makes it poetry.  Which is what Linklater movies show us, in their quietly sophisticated way.

Speaking of the world of Richard Linklater, the other thing I like is his depiction of Texas.  He shows us the state where not everyone totes guns and is an arch conservative.  I'm from Connecticut, but as I write this I'm wearing my Stubb's Austin T-shirt:

And like all Austin citizens, Linklater loves music.  The source music for the film spans the years from Coldplay to Arcade Fire and even includes some Paul McCartney; there's a scene (one of my favorites) in which Mason's father gives his son a bootleg Beatles Black Album CD and explains the significance of the order of the songs.  (My only beef with the soundtrack is that I wish the songs had been a little louder.)

Go see the film.  It's almost three hours long, but I guarantee you won't want it to end.

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