Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Boyhood, the movie

The movies that Richard Linklater-Ethan Hawke have done together have a special place in my heart. I absolutely love the Before series - Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight. Each of them has left me awestruck and breathless. They are so intensely realistic and so intensely simple that, in my view, they have a magical and ethereal quality. There's something truly, ineffably momentous about those movies. Momentous because they seem to capture really significant moments in time - moments that appear insignificant, mundane and prosaic but are teeming with joie de vivre and the joy of small things. My response to them, even though they are very 'intellectual' with dialogue taking precedence over action, is always very physical. (Besides, this caveat doesn't entirely apply here as I do actually like movies where dialogue is privileged over action.) The words, stories and destinies that these movies weave together always evoke a physical reaction. Immersion is the term that comes to mind. Empathy. Complete and utter identification. It is said that the dialogue for each of these movies is written collaboratively by the actors and director, drawing on their own experiences and ideas as they go along. Perhaps this is what rouses that multitude of emotions viewers feel - the final work of art is not the product of a single mind but of several artists, each of whom is deeply embedded in the work (as character and creator), producing a melee of truths, emotions and experiences that capture and speak to a multitude of unique realities. Boyhood is a masterpiece like the others. Of course what makes this film even more special - staggeringly so - is its epic quality. Made over 12 years, it captures the lives of the characters as they physically and emotionally age and evolve in real-time, ultimately producing a portrait of life that, I believe, is unlike any other work of fiction on screen. In today's media-saturated times, this is bound to be lauded, lionised, fetishised and then critiqued as what-have-you [insert tired postmodern jargon here], but really, nothing can take away from the experience of watching that real physical transformation unfold on screen - the actors aging, their voices, faces, physique and even temperaments changing in dramatic temporal forward lunges. It is incredible. Every slight inflection, every crease, every facial line and burrow assumes significance. The reality of the aging process is a tantalising 'device' (no, it is not a device, it cannot be in this case). In fact, I reconsider what I said earlier; jargon will not suffice here. Twelve years of a process of constant change, transformation and creation, and all of this in a narrative that is so very intensely simple - this is really special. The Before series is similar in that the same process underlies it, but there the parts work as self-contained narratives. (I think the next Before film is going to be utterly devastating, in both senses. There is something tremendously frightening and yet very calm and enlightened about the film-maker's and actors' ability to negotiate and wield the aging process, and its inevitable culmination, in their art.) Filmmakers and artists will surely wonder at the risk and commitment involved in something like this (twelve years to capture one story in today's accelerated times?). The Before series were small indie productions that had a niche audience; with Boyhood, that has changed, I would say. For me, the magic continues, and I left the theatre yesterday as spellbound as ever by the creations of the Linklater-Hawke duo.

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