As another calendar year draws to a close, we’re all left asking the same question: Where did the time go?

It’s a simple musing, with a less simple answer. Instead of a solution, what we're left with is a convoluted web of psychological and philosophical questions about life and time. And there are few more curious about humans' relationship with time than filmmaker Richard Linklater.

Creator of "Slacker", "Dazed & Confused", "Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight", and "Waking Life", Linklater is a director who remains fascinated by these little reflections we have as humans; these thoughts and discussions about time and existence. Over a career spanning almost 30 years, he has crafted some fine works. But Boyhood is his biggie - his permanent stamp on world Cinema. It is a movie so effortlessly magnificent in scope and cinematic finesse that reviewing it seems almost daunting. Despite being filmed over a twelve year period, there’s no sign of unevenness, no abrupt alterations in style. This is astonishing, given how everyone involved in the making of Boyhood must have changed so much during its lengthy production time. Linklater will have known that it was a project packed with potential problems from the outset, ranging from something as simple as funding running out, to more complex issues like little protagonist Ellar Coltrane having an adolescent strop and deciding to turn away from the entertainment industry. The fact that Boyhood got made at all is a fine achievement, but its final result as a landmark piece of cinema is a minor miracle.

Coltrane plays Mason Jr, aging along with his character as the twelve year period ebbs on. He begins as a six-year-old boy in Texas, and finishes up before the credits as a college freshman. We see his older sister (played by Linklater’s daughter Lorelei) age with him, along with his divorced parents Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke) and Olivia (Patricia Arquette). The fact that Linklater’s daughter grows up within the film is just one of the many facets that make Boyhood feel so personal, sincere and legitimate. And for the record, she does a good job too.

For the most part, Boyhood is a quiet, gentle film that calmly reveals the quiet beauty of human life, those innocent years of youth, and the sense of fascination that lies in growing up. In typical Linklater fashion, it’s not afraid to get a little philosophical, but it respects the audience too – never getting too deep before easing on to the next point in time. The film is unique in this sense too – showing us chunks of Mason Jr’s life through a patient drip-feed of life sequences. A timeline graph of Boyhood would resemble carriageway road markings – a small stretch of time, followed by a gap, and then another stretch. These gaps are little more than a cutaway, but often resemble years having passed, with Mason Jr broadening out and sounding deeper in each new scene. One moment he’s being kissed goodbye at school by his mother, the next he’s driving there himself. There are no titles that stretch across the screen to tell us what year we are in, and the viewer is instead left to consider temporal markers such as Britney Spears songs, mobile phone designs, or discussions about the Presidential election in order to gauge the time period.

Ordinarily, movies aim to evoke a set of simple emotions from us – Rom-Coms pull at the tear ducts, Horror’s get the heart pounding, and so forth. And sure, Boyhood is a typical Hollywood film in this respect. We smile when Mason Jr comes home a little drunk as teenager, we ache when he splits with his unfaithful girlfriend, and we jolt when his abusive stepfather crashes a whiskey bottle across the table in a fit of alcoholic rage. But the movie does not hinge on these emotive moments. They are brief flickers in a much bigger picture; a picture that has us marveling at the flow of time rather than the way the movie forces us to feel at a particular given moment.

Linklater drives Boyhood with an undercurrent heir of breeziness – with characters often adopting the same unhurried stroll of the two leads in the “Before” Trilogy  -  but the director also deliberately avoids romanticising life too much. Indeed, Boyhood remains staunchly realistic, and contains the inevitable growing pains that we all endure, including the histrionics of adolescence, the arguments with parents, and in Mason Jr’s case for a brief time – dealing with an abusive stepfather.

Hawke and Arquette are Hollywood Stars in every sense of phrase, but here they feel real and authentic as Mason Sr (who fleetingly appears as a distant but loving dad) and Olivia (who in her desperation to build a stable family ends up bringing foul men into her home). We know little about what happened between them as a couple, other than their mutual desire to bring their children up well.

At the beginning of the movie, Mason Sr is still a big kid in many ways, pulling up in a growling sports car, armed with a cigarette, and spouting dreams of becoming a successful musician. Early on in the film, he takes his children bowling, and puffs away on pack of smokes like a naughty teen. When his back is turned, young Sam nudges her brother and waves her hand in front of her nose as if to say “he stinks”. It’s a realistic and ingeniously subtle shot. Sam does not feel comfortable enough around her father to tell him directly that he smells of cigarette smoke. The children do not know their father well. And this is a point that Mason Sr – now nicotine-free - takes note of in later years. “We need to start talking more” he tells his son and daughter. It isn’t just the children in Boyhood who grow as individuals – Mason Sr does too.

Boyhood isn't the first film to study time in this way. Michael Apted’s “UP!” series continues to revisit the same children he filmed when they were just 7 years old, with the series now documenting the lives of these same people at the ages of 56 and up. There have even been cinematic efforts to amalgamate longitudinal study and fiction before Linklater – such as Michael Winterbottom’s “Everyday”. Filmed over a period of five years, Everyday tells the tale of man who is kept apart from his children during a stint in prison. It’s touching to see these children grow up and their father edging towards release, but as a study of time, the film deliberately lags. It’s reflecting a man who is incarcerated, and time is supposed to feel like an eternity. Boyhood spans a dozen years and pushes three hours, yet it completely flies by. Both films are incredible cinematic time capsules, but Boyhood surpasses Everyday in its technical scope, scale and optimism. Everyday feels like waiting for a long-lost friend to turn up for a reunion – an event full of hope but holding a strong sense of apprehension. Whereas Boyhood is the time you spent with this friend in your youth. Nostalgic, fleeting, happy.

Time flies, and wondering where exactly this time has flown to can be a shock. For Olivia, this snapping realisation occurs when Mason Jr leaves for college, as she realises she is now very much on her own. “My life is over” she moans. Mason Jr looks confused. “Aren't you jumping ahead by like, forty years or something?” he asks her.  And perhaps this is what Linklater is trying to tell us and warn us about. Boyhood is no lecture, but this can be recognised as a tentative advice. Don’t rush to skip ahead in life; this will happen naturally. Take a little time to saunter, ponder, dwell and muse. These are the times you’ll remember, everything else will naturally occur and slip by. It’s all well and good someone telling you this as friendly advice, but with Boyhood, the evidence of the simplistic wonder of life and growing has been made into moving images that everyone can comprehend and relate to. Images of life that looks and feels so real. And what a wonderful thing that is. 

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