Just as crucial to Boyhood’s success is the state of Texas itself. Linklater made his name as an Austin filmmaker, but here he expands his palette to capture the full sweep of Texas’ diversity. Life happens for Mason in bustling Houston, sleepy San Marcos, Austin, and in the wide open spaces of the Texas plains. This geographical variation gets mimicked in the types of people he meets along the way. Linklater’s Texas has some of the usual types associated with the Lone Star state, but it’s big enough to include all sorts. Mason, curious but not religious, encounters Christianity in the guise of the grandparents of his father’s second wife, who get treated with a mix of amusement and warm compassion. The openness of Mason’s approach to life grounds Linklater’s humane vision: there is room for all to coexist, if we forgive each other our differences.
Boyhood has the sweep of an epic bildungsroman, and it matches this vision with an intense emotional component. Linklater captures both the sheer joy and hopefulness of childhood and the disappointment and restlessness of youth. For all its vastness, however, Boyhood keeps a focus on small moments. That is what makes it a spectacle of the minute; Linklater lets a big picture develop slowly and naturally through the tiny fragments of life he captures, building a mosaic out of the snatches that fall between the cracks of life’s defining events. My favorite small moment comes early in the film, as Mason and his family pack up to move to Houston. As they drive away, Mason’s first best friend rides up on his bike. He’s come to say goodbye, but he is too late. The car drives past and his friend recedes, frozen forever in Mason’s mind.
These snippets of life—what T.S. Eliot called “timeless moments”—haunt Boyhood. They help to make it the most moving, breathtaking film you are likely to see at the theater this summer, and one of the best films ever made about growing up.
Asher Gelzer-Govatos is a graduate student in comparative literature at Washington University in St. Louis. He is founder and editor of the culture blog The Erstwhile Philistine, and has written for outlets such as Paste and Christianity Today. You can follow him on Twitter @ashergelzer.
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