As another calendar year draws to a close, we’re all left asking thesame 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 philosophicalquestions about life and time. And there are few more curious about humans' relationship with time than filmmaker Richard Linklater.

Creator of"Slacker", "Dazed & Confused", "BeforeSunrise/Sunset/Midnight", and "Waking Life", Linklater is adirector 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 fineworks.

But Boyhood is his biggie - his permanent stamp on world Cinema. It is amovie so effortlessly magnificent in scope and cinematic finesse that reviewingit seems almost daunting. Despite being filmed over a twelve year period,there’s no sign of unevenness, no abrupt alterations in style. This isastonishing, given how everyone involved in the making of Boyhood must havechanged so much during its lengthy production time.

Linklater will have knownthat it was a project packed with potential problems from the outset, ranging fromsomething as simple as funding running out, to more complex issues like littleprotagonist Ellar Coltrane having an adolescent strop and deciding to turn awayfrom the entertainment industry. The fact that Boyhood got made at all is afine achievement, but its final result as a landmark piece of cinema is a minormiracle.

Coltrane plays Mason Jr, aging along with his character as the twelveyear period ebbs on. He begins as a six-year-old boy in Texas, and finishes upbefore the credits as a college freshman. We see his older sister (played byLinklater’s daughter Lorelei) age with him, along with his divorced parentsMason Sr (Ethan Hawke) and Olivia (Patricia Arquette). The fact that Linklater’sdaughter grows up within the film is just one of the many facets that makeBoyhood feel so personal, sincere and legitimate.

And for the record, she doesa good job too.

For the most part, Boyhood is a quiet, gentle film that calmly reveals thequiet beauty of human life, those innocent years of youth, and the sense offascination that lies in growing up. In typical Linklater fashion, it’s notafraid to get a little philosophical, but it respects the audience too – nevergetting too deep before easing on to the next point in time.

The film is uniquein this sense too – showing us chunks of Mason Jr’s life through a patientdrip-feed of life sequences. A timeline graph of Boyhood would resemblecarriageway road markings – a small stretch of time, followed by a gap, andthen another stretch. These gaps are little more than a cutaway, but oftenresemble years having passed, with Mason Jr broadening out and sounding deeper ineach 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 acrossthe screen to tell us what year we are in, and the viewer is instead left toconsider temporal markers such as Britney Spears songs, mobile phone designs,or discussions about the Presidential election in order to gauge the timeperiod.

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

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

Hawke and Arquette are Hollywood Stars in every sense of phrase, buthere they feel real and authentic as Mason Sr (who fleetingly appears as adistant but loving dad) and Olivia (who in her desperation to build a stablefamily ends up bringing foul men into her home). We know little about whathappened between them as a couple, other than their mutual desire to bringtheir 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 dreamsof becoming a successful musician. Early on in the film, he takes his childrenbowling, and puffs away on pack of smokes like a naughty teen. When his back isturned, young Sam nudges her brother and waves her hand in front of her nose asif to say “he stinks”. It’s a realistic and ingeniously subtle shot. Sam doesnot feel comfortable enough around her father to tell him directly that hesmells of cigarette smoke. The children do not know their father well. And thisis 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 justthe 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 werejust 7 years old, with the series now documenting the lives of these samepeople at the ages of 56 and up. There have even been cinematic efforts toamalgamate longitudinal study and fiction before Linklater – such as MichaelWinterbottom’s “Everyday”. Filmed over a period of five years, Everyday tellsthe 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 towardsrelease, but as a study of time, the film deliberately lags. It’s reflecting aman who is incarcerated, and time is supposed to feel like an eternity. Boyhoodspans a dozen years and pushes three hours, yet it completely flies by. Bothfilms are incredible cinematic time capsules, but Boyhood surpasses Everyday inits technical scope, scale and optimism. Everyday feels like waiting for along-lost friend to turn up for a reunion – an event full of hope but holding astrong sense of apprehension. Whereas Boyhood is the time you spent with thisfriend in your youth. Nostalgic, fleeting, happy.

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

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