With his latest summer hit Boyhood, seasoned director Richard Linklater has honed sharp his craft in positive nihilism. Ever since his early films Slacker and Dazed and Confused, Linklater has addressed the alternating aspects of nihilism and the serendipitous humor of American life, combining the inevitable disillusionment of youth with the wonder of the fleetingness of youth’s moment; it is fitting that Boyhood is a culmination of this, chronicling 12 years of a single boy’s life in a span of 3 hours. Ellar Coltrane, the boy initially cast at 6 years old as Mason, did not see any footage during the 12 years of shooting Boyhood and thus found the final product “confronting.” “It is so beautiful and strange to now be showing it to people. It was part of my life for so long, it’s become a part of me, so to be sharing it with people is very surreal.”
For such a labor of love, it is oftentimes difficult to have enough perspective to judge one’s work objectively, but Linklater was able to delicately navigate the waters here and extricate himself gracefully; however, given the time and effort put into this production, one cannot help but want more out of Boyhood than the usual Linklater theme of searching for meaning. Finding what is real and meaningful in life is a constant thread in his films, from the 70’s kids in Dazed and Confused to the drug-hazed futuristic dystopia of A Scanner Darkly, where the boundaries between dream and reality become blurred, then fall away. While Linklater always tests and pushes the limits of reality in hopes of finding something better, in his lighter films the potential of each living moment is explored in all its magic and wonder, hinting at a person’s power to create a new reality at any time, not just at prescribed cinematic moments. Such is the serendipity of the Before Sunrise trilogy and the hope in the otherwise downer Fast Food Nation. The ugly comes with the magical, Linklater seems to say, and even in the comedy School of Rock, the wave of Jack Black’s dream of a band hit some sharp rocks of dissent from all sides. And either we can endure the big, bad, and the ugly to get to the wonderful and beautiful or we can succumb and be swallowed by the darkness.
In Boyhood, Mason and his family are given that choice in nearly every scene, and together and alone they endure the bad in hopes for something good; even when what they think is good turns out to be otherwise, they carry on with the process, ever moving forward baby step by baby step, taking what little happinesses they can along the way. But is that enough to give meaning to life? Should we not strive further for that one happiness, that singular joy we all seek but is always just beyond our reach? There may be meaning in a life strung together in a confetti of moments, a tapestry of little joys and woes, but for something truly real, we’re simply going need to go deeper in our search, Linklater included. The Gen-X slacker model has reached its expiration date.