T for Tom

We’ve All Been Through These Things

Posted in Prose by johnsontoms on August 10, 2014


the maturation of Mason

We’ve all been through these things. It may not be exactly the split parents, abusive stepfathers, life above the poverty line, failed dreams as a rock star, or changing schools as a child, but we all have these problems. I didn’t have many girlfriends and my parents stayed together through the worst, I never had to change schools growing up and I never had a girlfriend cheat on me, but I’ve grown up too. I’ve had a childhood with its problems, I too lived through Boyhood.

Watching Ellar Coltrane mature on screen has been the most affecting and rewarding film experience I’ve had in a long time, if nearly ever. The sheer notion of shooting a series of short films, each one year apart and signifying another critical period of young Mason’s journey from a world of adolescence into adulthood, is bafflingly simple to conjure but incredibly difficult to synthesize. Its total effect leaves the audience watching this young boy become a young man right on screen. And each of these capsules in time is breathlessly, flawlessly, violently a portion of each of our lives.

It helps none that the film is set in Richard Linklater’s home state, and my own, Texas. It helps no further that during each year a strong piece of music is used to cue the mood – many the very same songs I had at that time that strike the same memories for me as I saw again on screen in the life of another young man. Or that Ethan Hawke, as Mason, Sr., took the boy to an Astros game, or even just that Mason, Sr. is the sriking image of my own father. But then, maybe he looked like everyone’s father. We grow up with Mason, Sr. just as much as Mason, Jr. Because in its glorious, sweeping tedium, Boyhood isn’t just about one boy – it’s about all of us.

What Linklater achieves with his first major full-length feature, Dazed and Confused, is to illustrate the singular, encapsulated innocence of adolescence. Following a group of high school students during the course of a single day, Dazed presents us with that heightened if finite bounty of youth – that life with its worries and responsibilities and troubles is beyond, today’s moments will last forever and the troubles of present day are the most amplified of issues. It is of course why children could ever be so upset about doing their chores, why teenagers could be so frustrated with a curfew, or why a kiss at the end of the night could be so powerful. But where Dazed lets us wallow and swim richly within these amplified moments of bliss, Boyhood reminds us that wisdom comes only from experience, and that maturation is a lifetime.

Watching Mason physically grow up, recognizing and understanding the struggles that his mother faced, having the convenient position of being in the audience, myself a bit wiser, myself a bit older, I found myself holding back tears when the stepfather in a drunken rage started throwing his drinking glasses at the children across the dinner table. I cried again when Mason went to school the next day in dirty clothes, not having showered or dressed because his Mother fled with them from the home. Mason went to school that day in a town he had never enrolled, without friends, without even books. And each time he these stories came to an end, we knew already where the next would start.

As the mother dashed from husband to husband, struggling to finish school and create a life certain kind of life for her children, that kind of life that is all too familiar, we could sense the next step. Buying a home, moving in, paying bills, all the things that we think we want.

We could sense these things in Mason, Sr. as well. Ethan Hawke does superbly here what he did with Jesse in the Before Sunrise trilogy – presents a man contented with being alive even in a world that seemingly won’t let us. When his ex-wife won’t approve his visits, he extends them longer and brings more gifts. When she says he’s not welcome, he comes twice as often. When his children can’t be cheered up, he tells more jokes. He never gives up on his dreams, but he adjusts them to survive, to survive cheerfully. His presence as the father reminds us wonderfully – you can’t always get what you want, but you can get what you need. This lesson becomes the guide for his own son who, as the years pass from boyhood to manhood, we see increasingly embrace his own free spirit of adventure until finally leaving the home for college. But Hawke’s presence also painfully reminds us that not all dreams come true – sometimes holding it together is all we ever have.

The day comes for Mason, Jr. to leave his mother’s home for college. As can be expected, she breaks down into tears. But where we knew the empty nest would we happen, we knew because it happened to us, we felt it in a way we hadn’t seen before on screen. Patricia Arquette so poignantly eulogizes, “there’s nothing after this for me, there are no more check marks in the timeline. You leave, and I keep working until I’m dead in the ground. I just through there would be more.”

These moments of clarity are effecting all throughout Boyhood. Every time Mason has a sincere moment, a true conversation with a parental figure, a girlfriend, a teacher, a friend, the truth sets in – guffaws at breast lines, jokes about facebook, wanking motions. He is after all a boy growing up, if only a boy. This film never lets us forget and always gets it just right.

Eventually Mason, Jr. moves away to El Paso, at this point a foreign land in a domestic world. The mountains rise, the highways empty, the boy now grown is different like his surroundings. His first day on campus is spent hiking the mountains with other young adults he met just that day. They are young, fit, attractive, carefree, intoxicating. The sun is setting as they reach a rising rock face over a body of water, a girl for each boy. There is the one couple standing on that rock howling at the setting sun. There is Mason with the other girl talking about carpe diem. “Maybe the moment seizes us,” she says. “There are too many moments, all the time, for us to think we could seize just one.” Mason agrees, turns, looks at her, smiles.

The screen fades to black, Arcade Fire begins to play and I’m left wondering what will seize me?

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