Boyhood (the Movie) with a small nod to C.S. Lewis
Tonia and I enjoyed Boyhood last weekend. In a word, it's an interesting film-making idea that is well-executed, with content that will be especially interesting to parents of teens and pre-teens. The focus is Mason moving from age 6 to 18-- thus, "Boyhood"-- but his Mom, the various fathers, and older sister Samantha get a lot of on-screen time too.
The movie is rated R for language and adult content. (The teens are shown using alcohol and drugs, but not shown having sex.) It is very much an adult movie-- or perhaps it'd be good for parents with older teen children as an opportunity for discussion.
The movie seems quite real/accurate on how "good" but "worldly" parents would raise children. First, the movie underlines the importance of sacrificially loving one's children-- far beyond the hollow idea of love as largely sentiment. In particular, the love of Olivia (the mother, played by Patricia Arquette) often requires courage and sacrifice. Sure, she struggles here and there, but she has a tough life! In contrast, the three fathers have a difficult time balancing love of children with their own selfish pursuits and personal demons.
Second, there is little in the film (explicitly) on religion. The exception: the step-grandparents are devout and kind. Their daughter (Mason's step-mom) seems like a jewel. And they give the boy his first Bible-- something with which he seems to be unfamiliar. Christianity is treated respectfully, but as something alien to him. The alternative? The children are raised, to the best of Olivia's ability, through her love, to be loving to others. They engage in a variety of "worldly" activities-- and the mom is not too upset with any of that.
This is akin to what Christian Smith describes as the predominant religion among younger people today, Moral Therapeutic Deism: a feeling/love-oriented, broad sense of morality (especially opposed to overtly harming others) where God is absent or not particularly active.
Some other themes in the movie:
1.) I was struck by the central role of food/meals in the movie. Perhaps it was simply a movie-making construct for conversation-- a useful context for convenient dialogue. Or perhaps Richard Linklater, the director, was making a statement about the importance of fellowship and the relationships that develop around shared meals (see: Acts 2, 4)-- in order that truer forms of love can be embodied.
2.) Spoiler alert for this point: The three fathers are interesting. First, the biological father is a mess early-on, loving the kids in a somewhat well-intentioned, but shallow and ultimately selfish manner. The Mom has to play defense against the poor example that he sets and the poor sort of love (e.g., gifts/bribes) that he offers. As the movie progresses, he increasingly "gets it". He eventually marries a wonderful woman (raised by the Christian parents noted above) and becomes more "productive" as a parent.
Second, she marries one of her former professors. He seems a little too slick early on-- and then devolves into a drunken and abusive jerk, from whom she flees. Third, she marries one of her own college students-- a former soldier who seems to have things together. He seems like a pretty good guy, but then struggles a lot with the dynamics/difficulties of a mixed family and the doldrums of everyday life at a mundane job.
The two later men/marriages seem quite different, but are ultimately quite similar. The former man is much older; the latter is younger. The former is a professor; the latter is a prison guard. The former is an easy-going lech; the latter has a military background. But at the end of the day, they're quite similar. The professor forces the boy to get a crew cut; the prison guard thinks he knows it all. The professor likes his wine; the prison guard likes his beer.
There at least two lessons here: a.) age and profession don't matter much to character; and b.) humbly and fully engaging life is preferable. Even though life is messy and challenging, arrogance is a joke-- and escapism through substance abuse is no answer. (The teens use alcohol and drugs, but it's portrayed as recreational rather than escapist.)
3.) Small spoiler alert: When Mason is heading off to college, it causes an existential crisis for his mom. She's worked hard to raise her kids. She got an education and has a good career. But what's it all worth? What's the point? (Just prior to this scene, she's approached by someone in a restaurant whom she had successfully encouraged to move from menial labor to college. This should have been an inspiring moment for her, but it doesn't last long if it registers at all.) In this moment of crisis, we don't get an answer from her-- or especially, any hope that she will find an answer. The moviegoer knows what should be obvious to her, but isn't: pouring her life into students and her children is a beautiful thing and a valuable legacy.
A few things on how the movie is filmed:
1.) The premise is simple but amazing: Linklater follows a few actors over 12 years-- when Mason (played by Ellar Coltrane) ranges from 6 to 18 years old. So, Mason is acting in a role, but he's playing the part of a 6-year old at age 6, 7 at 7, and so on. We see the actors age. We see the times and the culture changing, in "real time" of a sort. It's also interesting to imagine how much film they shot-- and then edited, given the change in story lines, current events, etc.
2.) Tonia noticed that the filming is largely as if the cameras are not there. The filming is not intrusive; the actors are not playing to the camera. In this, the style of the filming is also more real-life.
3.) Linklater uses hair and cars as tools in his cinematographic bag. Changes in haircuts are his preferred method to signal to the audience that we've entered a new year/vignette. But beyond that, hair is metaphor: Samantha's hair changes as little as her character. Mason's hair changes quite a bit and tends toward the longer side, except for the time when his step-father mandated a buzz cut. The car as metaphor is a bit more obvious: the father starts with a GTO and ends up in a mini-van!
4.) Another spoiler alert: There's not much to spoil! There are no big events. This link provides a synopsis of the storyline, but there's not much to it. I think that's the point-- that much of life is mundane and predictable in a broad sense. Sure, things change-- but all in all, life is largely run-of-the-mill stuff.
Even so, we (esp. Tonia) kept waiting for "something (bad) to happen". This reminds me of C.S. Lewis on bad readers and bad literature-- here, that bad movie-goers and bad movies insist on something big happening. The most extreme version of this is "big dumb fun"-- movies with a lot of action, especially with mayhem and things blowing up. But even milder forms of this are cousins of the same approach: we often need/want something big to happen, for a movie to hold our interest.