Richard Linklater says making "Boyhood" was "unlike any film ever," and it's hard to disagree with him. Plenty of movies have spent more than a decade stuck in turnaround, but there's nothing in the history of fiction film to match the unique process of "Boyhood," shooting several days each year for 12 years and then turning the results into a poetic and deeply moving look at how time changes us in ways we both do and don't see (If the title weren't already taken, "Boyhood" could easily have been called "Life Itself.") Since its late-breaking debut at Sundance, Linklater's sprawling but intimate story has been met with near-universal praise, and continued a winning streak that, after "Bernie" and "Before Midnight," is rivaled only by the early threepeat of "Slacker," "Dazed and Confused" and "Before Sunrise."
The title "Boyhood" implies a certain perspective, but one of the great things about the movie is how much we see all four of the central characters grow. Ellar Coltrane's character may not notice his parents aging, but we do, and we see how much the changes in his life affect them as well. Parents say their kids grow up so fast; this is like that process compressed into under three hours.
It's called "Boyhood," but it could be called "Parenthood." It does kind of mirror the kid's perspective, but anyone who's been anywhere near parenting, it is about that too, so much so.
People ask "Where'd you get the idea?" I started thinking about it in '99. I'd been a parent six-plus years, and thinking about childhood and seeing that maturation process in front of me, I thought, "I need to make a movie about childhood to some degree." I was trying to find the story within that, not being able to find the one moment within that genre, facing the limitations due to actors' physicality and so on: Just seeing my ideas dispersed over all of it, the big idea came as a way to solve a problem. The big canvas presented itself through this incremental, longitudinal approach to telling a story
"Longitudinal" is a word you don't often hear from fiction filmmakers, but documentarians use it all the time. Did you take some of your inspirations from documentaries like the "Up" series?
There's a precedent for it, both in the sciences, and in documentary—the "Up" series and a lot of Steve James' movies. I don't think there's precedent for it in fictional storytelling. It hits the wall because it's such a crazy and impractical way to go about it.
The way you move through the years is very elliptical at times. There's no "Year One" caption.
I wanted to unfold and not pay a lot of attention to itself. I wanted to unfold, kind of like a memory you'd look back to of your childhood. It just sort of flows. You don't always remember the date. It's a feeling or an impression. I was really trying to capture—it sounds kind of grandiose or something—just the way time unfolds in our lives, or the way we go through maturing. Something as simple as that.
It's almost anti-grandiose, in the sense that you deliberately skip over a lot of the moments that would make up a more conventional drama. You start the movie with Mason's parents already divorced, rather than taking us through their breakup. It's like the way the moments that get fixed in our minds are not always what would seem like the important ones.
They hardly ever are. Memory is unique to every person, but it often it is these small, inexplicable intimate things: Why is that stuck in my memory? I wanted to work through all those more obvious ideas and get to the essence. I had that year between shoots to do it, too. But I was very much aware of that. What not to do. I knew that the film would define itself more by what it's not than what it is.
There's also the idea that what's important to one character may be totally incidental to another. Mason is heartbroken that his father sold the car he promised to give him when he turned 16, but his dad doesn't even remember the conversation. It was huge for a young boy to hear that promise, but it wasn't a big deal for his father.
Likewise, the guy who worked on the septic line who shows up four years later. That was not a big moment for Patricia to give off that piece of advice, the way that stuck and influenced that guy's life. You really do have to be on your game in your dealings with people, because they do remember, they do hold on. We don't know how we affect each other, which is such a frightening thought as a parent. You have a bad day or you're not thinking thoroughly and they ask an important question to them: Well, you just missed an opportunity. It's such a crap shoot.