Mason's constantly learning about the world he inhabits.
With Boyhood, Richard Linklater has created the ultimate coming-of-age film. Many other movies in this genre present one big event as the kick-in-the-rear that propels a character toward maturation or a greater sense of the world beyond oneself. Linklater's film instead focuses on the million and one little things that help shape who we are and who we will become. Childhood is rife with these developmental moments, which accumulate daily, but we collect these experiences throughout our lives.
Boyhood was filmed a few days at a time over the course of 12 years. The boy of the title, Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), is 6 years old at the beginning of the film and 18 at its conclusion, when he goes off to college. The changes we see in him are remarkable. The baby fat gives way to a lanky young man; a child with little control over his life grows into a thoughtful young adult ready to discover his life's story. The lengthy time span also lets us witness how circumstances change for Mason's family: mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette), father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) and older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). We watch Mason's divorced parents age physically and emotionally. And by casting his own daughter as the family's older sister, Linklater has created a home movie within a work of art.
The movie's fluidity is remarkable, especially since it was filmed in fits and starts. There are no title cards or fades to black to indicate the passage of time. From the opening sequence where Mason explains to his mother why he put rocks in his classroom's pencil sharpener to a scene where a passion for photography and a taste of psychedelic drugs strengthen his perceptive abilities, Mason's constantly learning about himself and the world he inhabits.
The originality of Boyhood extends beyond what we see up on the screen. It's this film, even more so than Slacker and the Before trilogy, that will earn Linklater a place in the history books.