Review: Richard Linklater's unique masterpiece 'Boyhood' hits hard and cuts deep
I am nine years old. I am lying in the back of the 1977 Plymouth van my parents are driving. It is the middle of the night, and we are leaving Dunedin on the first leg of our move to Texas. I am crying. My best friend Oli Watt, my next-door neighbor, said goodbye to me earlier in the day, and we've made promises to write and call on the phone, but I know that I am leaving behind the life that I've enjoyed up to that point and that whatever comes next, it will be different, and I am afraid, and I am sad, and I am sure that nothing will ever be this good again.
I am sixteen years old. I am lying in the back of the car driven by my nineteen year old girlfriend. It is the middle of the night, and while I'm supposed to be at school in the morning, I don't care at all. I am stoned and drunk and happy. My parents hate this girl that comes to pick me up in the middle of the night, who always knows where there's a party, who has way more sexual experience than me, and they've tried to stop me from seeing her, but I am desperate for what I see as necessary sensual memory, fodder for the writing that I want to make a career of, and I know that it's destroying the relationship I have with my parents who I adore for adopting me, but I have to do this, I have to live like this, and it is amazing and it is dizzying and I am sure that nothing will ever be this good again.
I am twenty-six years old. I am sitting on the bed in the room I share with the woman I am about to marry, and she has just told me that she is leaving. I am yelling at her, but I can't hear myself. I'm thinking about all the plans, all the conversations, all the promises, and I am thinking about the child we almost had, the choice that was made, the horrible space it left between us that nothing has worked to fill. I am crippled by both the love I have for her and the yawning suspicion that I really am a terrible person, not worth the love she's wasted on me, and I know that if she leaves, I'm done, there's no way I ever find anyone else, and I am sure that nothing will ever be this good again.
I am thirty-five years old. I am standing in one of the delivery rooms at the Cedar-Sinai hospital. It is the middle of the night, and Dr. Klein hands me my first-born son. I am crying. This tiny, screaming, beautiful creature in my hands represents my first blood connection to any other human being on the planet, and I am suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of love so intense that it takes my breath away, and the life that I've lived up until this moment is over and now I am about something else and someone else and whatever comes next, it will be different, and I am thrilled, and I am overjoyed, and I am sure that nothing will ever be this good again.
I am forty-four years old. I am sitting on the couch in the playroom of the house I bought. It is just after ten in the morning, and my kids are staring at me with wide eyes because I have just told them that I am moving out. I am numb. These two trusting, sweet souls have just been presented with the first genuine pain in their lives, and I am the cause of it. The life that they've lived until this moment is over and now we're going to become a former family, a divided home, and the relationship I've had with the boys, that nightly closeness that we've known their whole lives now sacrificed in favor of some hope that we might find individual happiness where we could not as a couple, and I am sure that nothing will ever be this good again.
Those moments all exist as active present tense moments for me. My memory is not some dusty scrapbook I flip through. As with anyone, memory for me is a river that I stand in, and it is always flowing around me, always active, always threatening to wash me away if I let it. I can think of any of a hundred milestones from my life as a child, as a young adult, as a son, as a father, as a professional, as a lover, as a failure, as a success, and they are right there, instantly alive for me.
This past Sunday, my oldest son turned nine years old, and I think of how I just held him in my hands, just cut the cord that bound him to my wife, just diapered him, just helped him learn to walk, to talk, to laugh, to read… and now he's nine, halfway to eighteen, halfway to what they consider adulthood, halfway to the place where Richard Linklater wraps up his lovely, evocative, quietly devastating "Boyhood." My youngest son is six, the age where the film begins for Mason, played in real time by Ellar Coltrane, and I am realizing that it's going to fly by for him as well. They will both be gone before I realize it, and that knowledge is like a physical blow, a horrifying sadness that underscores even the happiest moments that we have.
There's not a parent alive who will be able to shake the haunting beauty of Linklater's latest film, a flawed but vibrant masterpiece, but saying that implies that non-parents will be less impressed with this bold and brilliant movie. Nonsense.
This is a movie about the entire messy painful amazing thrilling heartbreaking ride called life, told in a way that makes it unique among narrative features. It is the sort of movie that could only have been made by one person, and that defies easy summary. I can tell you what it is very quickly, but to try to impart the actual experience of watching it… that seems almost confoundingly complex. I have chewed on this review for weeks. I have thrown out entire versions of it. And the real reason I've had so much trouble is because I am in a moment of flux unlike any I've ever faced before.
By the time many of you read this on Thursday, I will have picked up keys to an apartment where I am about to move. By myself. Sure, I have a second room for my kids, but I'm not going to be able to dress this up or make it sounds any better than it is. I have broken my marriage. I have thrown in the towel. I have made a decision that the only way forward is apart, and that moment is finally here, after years of slow-motion pain, and when I saw "Boyhood," which deals with broken marriages and emotional hollows and the milestones of how we become emotionally mature, or not, it left me ruined. It feels too raw, too real, and I suspect that is entirely the point.
In some ways, "Boyhood" simply feels like part of an ongoing conversation that I've been having with my friends, my readers, and my family since the day my first son was born in 2005. He's so grown-up right now that I'm starting to have genuine anxiety about what happens when he moves away. But then I think about the life changes he's been through, and the life changes that are still to come in his immediate future, and I worry that he's so young that I can still totally destroy him as a person. He's got an enormous personality already, but I can see that he's searching already for answers to larger questions, for some sense of defining identity. He's at a vulnerable age, and I want nothing more than to shield him from any pain, any heartbreak… and I can't. That's impossible, and it's not my job. Pain and heartbreak are two of the things that define us, and he'll have his share, just like everyone else. All I can do is be there to help him try to make sense of it.
My other son is at that age right now where life is nothing but imagination and play and emotional waves that he barely understands, and he is sweet in a way I can't even fully understand. He teaches me about love and patience and kindness every day, and he does it without knowing he's doing it. I watch him, and I listen to him, and can't believe I have this person in my life, that anyone would trust a soul as sweet as that to me, and I think about how this divorce is going to blow his world up, and I hate myself a little, no matter how right I know I am about the choice I've made.