Before Boyhood received its eventual title, the original intention was to call the film 12 Years; however, upon the release of 12 Years a Slave, the similarity between the two titles and their radically different subject matter sparked a change. The title in its former incarnation seems constricting, and nothing more than a marketing ploy to inform viewers of the miraculous feat of filmmaking Richard Linklater and his team embarked upon to tell the story of one boy’s adolescent years from ages six to eighteen.
Although the film only spans the twelve years its former title alludes to, the film feels far more all encompassing than that. Even as the film ends, the lives of the characters seem to progress and evolve in the imagination of the viewer, existing well beyond the limits of twelve years. Boyhood even dares to challenge its current title, because Life, Sisterhood, or Parenthood could have all suited the film. Though it is ultimately Mason Jr.’s (Ellar Coltrane) story, it is an incredible compliment to the film that it is able to be so detailed in its portrait of family life.
It’s not uncommon for Linklater to utilize an ending that suggests progression or leaves questions open for discussion long after the film finishes, and Boyhood is no different. The finite is not of interest to Linklater, it is more about the present and the uncertainties that present themselves in the magic of the everyday. As a younger boy, Mason Jr. is an extremely curious individual, learning through seeing rather than doing and as he grows up into a teenager he becomes extremely self-aware and socially active, manifesting some of his father’s influence, some of his mother’s, and grasping on to the elusive individualism all teenagers strive for.
The film is very aware of temporality and the journey through it, making an effort to place itself amongst history, be it in its politics or as a journey through music history. Boyhood is inherently historic in its recollection of the past because these moments were at the forefront during the time the film was being shot. For example, the film highlights the Obama/McCain election in a post-9/11 context. Despite the distinct time period in which it’s set, the film miraculously feels timeless. The timelessness helps the film resonate across different demographics, and will surely result in the film being appreciated for decades to come because growing up never really changes, even if the world around you is doing so rapidly.
Perhaps Linklater’s greatest strength is his understanding of character, specifically his ability to write for young people. As a filmmaker he is very quickly becoming the youth’s filmmaker, with efforts like Dazed and Confused and School of Rock already behind him, he’s explored various stages of adolescence in his career but none with such focus, grandeur and sincerity as Boyhood. Utilizing themes previously explored, Boyhood is the totality of Linklater’s vision of youth, a loving journey through the ups and downs of growing up.