There's a beautiful simplicity at work in the Narrative of Boyhood, a mature, confident sense of storytelling, though the story being told is hardly simple. The narrative moves through twelve years fluidly, seamlessly. And it's honest, so honest that it understands the way sons and fathers and mothers and daughters often communicate peripherally with each other, both hearing and not hearing. When Mason Jr. remarks to his father that a little more patience on his mother's part might have saved him from a parade of drunks, the moment is both great and small, so great it holds the key to understanding everything Mason Jr. yearned for as a boy, so small Mason Sr. misses it in a swig of beer. This is just one of the marvelous contradictions that the narrative embraces about people's lives. Olivia wants to make a Family, but she cannot pick good men (she doesn't need them, a lesson she fails to learn until after husband two; she is a teacher who lectures on conditioned responses, yet her own responses are as conditioned by society's short-sighted notions about the typical family structure as anyone else's). Mason Jr. wants to be in the moment, to experience life apart from the parameters that society sets (there's a funny scene where the absurdity of Facebook and our Pavlovian responses to it feels less like a lecture than another of the movie's marvelous, simple, and honest contradictions). Mason Sr. is the wayward boy who finds his way late in life, a musician who ultimately takes a job with an insurance company; yet this is not a sacrifice, as he finds expression for his music through his family. Family saves us and condemns us, the narrative affirms, time and time again. A mother rescues her children from a drunk. A mother marries another drunk. A father takes his children to the park. A father cannot be a grown-up. Central to the narrative, also, is the notion of life as a cyclical force, one that wheels forward through time and always comes back round upon itself. At the movie's end, Mason Jr. has come to the sunset of one such cycle and stands upon the precipice of another, and all around him are the desert, the rocks, the river worn and moved by time. And present in this moment that has surely seized them: a boy and a girl, who seem poised to start the cycle anew. Smiling at each other peripherally. Communicating the way we do, in a moment both great and small. And honest.
Written and directed by Richard Linklater