Boyhood: A Story of Mason, and Me. Why this movie was such an important, transforming experience for me.
In the middle of Boyhood, Ethan Hawke as Mason Sr., absent father, drives his son, Mason Jr, played by Ellar Coltrane, to his 15th birthday party being held way out in the dry countryside of Texas. As they motor along in dad’s sleek new minivan, father tells son, “When you get older you can save up and buy a car of your own, be cool like I used to be”.
Nostalgia, always wanting to be cool like we were in the past, plays a large role in the film Boyhood, just as it does in real boyhood. This masterpiece, directed and shot over 12 years by visionary auteur Richard Linklater, follows the life of Mason Jr., as he grows from a six-year old in kindergarten to an eighteen-year old entering his first year in college. Mason is a child of divorced parents, living with his mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) along with his older sister Samantha (Lorelai Linklater). The family isn’t very stable, and moves around often as Olivia works on her dream of earning a psychology degree.
In Boyhood, Mason constantly is uprooted from his barely lived-in homes, and is always wishing for that chance to recapture the greatness, the simplicity of his last home. Even though he doesn’t realize it, all Mason wants to do is “be cool”, even though he wants to be cool in a far different way than his father does.
In our own boyhood (or girlhood), we also move from place to place, from school to school, from friend to friend. People enter our lives; people leave them. We experience milestones, from our first day of kindergarten to high school graduation; from our first baseball game to our first day of college. We constantly look back at past lives, desperately wanting to cling on to the pieces we loved and just cannot leave behind. We don’t want to turn our backs on the comfort, the coolness.
For Mason, Harry Potter was cool. In the beginning of the movie, his family lines up eagerly to buy the newest addition to the wizarding saga, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. For Mason, Game Boy is cool. Mason plays one of this favorite games on his device as he waits to see his father for the first time in over a year. For Mason, Kings of Leon and the Beatles are cool. Mason receives a definitive collection of the solo works of the Beatles for his birthday from his dad, and Mason kisses a girl in the back seat of a car as a Kings of Leon single blares in the background. For Mason, art is cool. Mason eventually falls in love with photography, and he also falls in love with a girl. For Mason, love is cool.
For me, and for many kids of my generation, these things are all cool. I vividly remember reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in bed with my mom and dad and siblings many years ago, just like Mason and Samantha. I remember waiting with great anticipation in line for the premier of the last Harry Potter movie. I remember long hours playing Game Boy with my brother, just like Mason. We played Pokemon sometimes, each of us having a favorite version of the game, mine the obviously superior Pokemon Sapphire, his the obviously lesser Pokemon Ruby. Often we would battle each other for hours playing Mario. I remember listening to Kings of Leon for hours on my iPod Nano, similar to the iPod Nano that Mason has. I remember talking to my dad about my favorite Beatles’ album, just like how Mason talks to his dad about his favorite member of the band (Paul McCartney).
Most of all, I’ve always thought art is cool. I’ve wanted to be a writer for a long, long time now. I have never felt the joy of expressing my true self like when I’m writing. I get the feeling that Mason feels the same way about his photography. And just like Mason, I experienced something like love when I was younger. Just like Mason, the love ended. It was no one’s fault; it just happened. As Hawke so rightly says about adolescents, “Everybody’s just changing so much, you know. The odds of two young people staying on the same wavelength…”. That is what happened to Mason, and that is what happened to me. In boyhood, we all change so quickly. Oftentimes, we cannot cope with the changes occurring in our children peers, whether they are friends, enemies, or love interests. These changes force people to move apart. This happened to both me and Mason. So, we both grieve for a period, and then move on.
Now, as I stand mere weeks from moving away from home, from becoming a true adult, from ending my own boyhood, I could not have seen Mason’s Boyhood at a better time. This movie is receiving rave reviews across the country. It has a perfect score on Metacritic; only movies like The Godfather and Lawrence of Arabia achieve that ranking. This is probably my favorite movie of all time. It has been greatly praised for the writing, direction, score, and cinematography, among other things. I love this movie for all of those things. But most of all, I and so many others, including many of my fellow young adults, love it because it so perfectly encapsulates the emotions I and others felt growing up, whether it was in 1960s or 2000s America. For me, it seemed to illustrate so many of the emotions running through my mind at this time. Now, the specifics of my and Mason’s stories are different. My parents stayed together, while his didn’t. I played sports and acted, while Mason took pictures. We attended different high schools, lived in different states, grew up in different atmospheres. Yet, when Mason felt happiness playing Game Boy, I understood. When Mason was bullied in middle school, I understood. When Mason felt isolated from his parents, I understood. When Mason didn’t try his hardest in school, I understood. When Mason was in love, I understood. When Mason was heartbroken, I understood.
And, most importantly, when Mason wanted to move on from his boyhood, wanted to put his mark on the world, wanted to be happy with his life, I understood. Leaving -friends, a hometown, and family- is the hardest thing that anyone can ever do. It almost seems like an impossible task. But, just like Mason, I have my life to live. Just like Mason, I love my family, and will owe them greatly for everything they taught me. Just like Mason, I am part of the Class of 2018. Just like Mason, I am unsure of what lies ahead, but willing to move forward confidently, and ready to live my life how I have always wanted to live it. Just like Mason, my boyhood is ending. If I ever grow grow nostalgic for my boyhood, grow nostalgic for the time I was really cool, I can always crack open my Harry Potter and crank up the Kings of Leon to eleven. Just like Mason, my boyhood may be over, but that doesn’t mean it never existed.