Monday, April 11, 2016
Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu) and Boyhood were the front-runners, in large part because they took great risks. In addition to an often surreal approach to its subject matter, Birdman was filmed to give the illusion that most of it was one continuous take -- even though the narrative was not necessarily continuous. And Boyhood was filmed over the course of 12 years, as its protagonist, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), went from the age of 6 to 18 years old. Faced with two such groundbreaking but inimitable films, the Academy chose poorly: It went for the flashy technique of Birdman instead of the profoundly revealing story of the pressures a child faces in the process of growing up. But it's not just Mason's story, it's also that of his mother (Patricia Arquette), his sister (Lorelei Linklater), and his father (Ethan Hawke). Arquette deservedly won a supporting actress Oscar, but Hawke (who was nominated) also demonstrated the remarkable ability to adapt his persona over the extended filming time. The divorced parents face pressures, too: the mother the more immediate one of becoming a single parent and then making disastrously wrong choices as she remarries, the father the long-term one of remaining a presence in the lives of his children. He seems to have it easier than his ex-wife does, but every time Hawke re-appears in the film, he beautifully communicates the sense of having lost something precious. Like his son, he grows, shedding his fecklessness and irresponsibility, just as Mason learns to sift through the continuous barrage of advice from adults and find the wisdom to become his own person. I don't know of any film that so tenderly presents what the quotidian is like, without resorting to melodramatic crisis at its turning points. The only other films I can even compare it to are François Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959) and Satyajit Ray's Aparajito (1956), which take place in much harsher milieus than the Texas towns and cities in which Linklater sets Boyhood. But even though that world is milder and more familiar than the places in France and India where Truffaut and Ray set their films, Boyhood reveals how the world shapes us -- or as Linklater puts it at the end of his film, "the moment seizes us" -- as well as those films do. I think it's a treasure that belongs in their august company.