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Film / Boyhood

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Boyhood is a 2014 drama directed by Richard Linklater, starring Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette and Lorelei Linklater.

It tells the story of Mason, a six-year-old boy from Texas with a Dysfunctional Family. Along with his biological parents Olivia and Mason, Sr., we follow Mason as he goes through school, gets in trouble, falls in love and eventually leaves for college.

The film is notable for taking the Coming of Age Story to its logical extreme—rather than use Time-Shifted Actors, the film was shot over the course of twelve years, so we get to see Mason (and the rest of the world) grow up before our eyes.

This film provides examples of:

  • Ambiguously Brown: Samantha is moderately darker skinned than her brother, despite having two Caucasian blonde parents.
  • An Aesop:
    • Teen Pregnancy can ruin your life.
    • The movie seems to carry the sad but true message that if you spend all your time making others happy, you yourself may become unhappy.
  • The Alcoholic: All of Olivia's husbands to a certain extent. Mason Sr. eventually kicks the habit, but Bill Welbrock does not.
  • Amicable Exes: Olivia and Mason Sr sure don't start off this way, but they get there by the time the kids are in high school.
  • Bitch Alert: Male example. Bill's first scene is some rather Sugary Malice towards Mason, and the dinner scene solidifies it. He ends up becoming an abusive alcoholic.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Samantha gives off heavy hints of this early in the film, occasionally sassing off to her mother and annoying her brother. Luckily, she seems to mellow out a little bit as she grows, though she still appears bemused by the rest of her family.
  • Call-Back: A Hispanic youth helps replace Olivia's pipe when Mason is 15 and she suggests he go to school because he's smart. He reappears near the end, now having learned English and gone to school, as the manager of the restaurant they're eating in. He recognises Olivia instantly and thanks her.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Averted. Mason has a beer when he's only thirteen and goes out drinking and smoking when he's fifteen. Despite confessing to his mother, he isn't seen being punished (or suffering any cosmic consequences). In a later scene he also takes his eyes off the road while he's driving to look at Sheena's phone. No car accident at all.
  • Central Theme:
    • Time passes by quicker than you realize, and life isn't defined by single events, so you need to learn to live in the moment.
    • The realization that adults don't always have the answers to the larger questions in your life, and the need to be your own man without completely falling into cynicism.
  • Character Aged with the Actor: Invoked.
  • Character Development: A key part of the film is seeing how the characters grow naturally over the 12 year time frame. Notably, Mason Jr. becomes very introspective as a young teen, seeking relationships with others around him; Mason Sr. grows to be a responsible father figure, getting a steady job and marrying another woman to some success; and Olivia finishes her education attempts to live independently, tiring of the way all of her relationships end on a sour note.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Portrayed rather realistically in the scene where Mason (at the time in 8th grade) and his friend Tony hang out with older high schoolers alone. Their conversation is littered with "fuck"s, and Mason and Tony also throw them out a few times gratuitously, likely to fit in with the older boys.
  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: The psychology professor is an abusive alcoholic.
  • Coming of Age Story: The Movie.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Sheena, Mason's high school girlfriend, accuses him of being too drawn into this as she breaks up with him.
  • Cool Car: Dad's Pontiac GTO, eventually replaced by a minivan.
  • Dad the Veteran: Well, step-dad, at least. At one point, Olivia moves in with Jim, who has just come off of tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In his initial scenes, he comes off as responsible and driven, reciting his experiences in a down-to-earth way while revealing that no one in his platoon lost a life during the time he was in the service. However, it's hinted that his time in combat had a greater effect on him than he'd been willing to admit, as he turns to drinking later on in the film, and repeatedly reprimands Mason whenever he perceives the latter as slacking in his life decisions.
  • Dashed Plot Line: The movie skips years between scenes.
  • The Determinator: Mason Sr. desperately wants to connect with his kids, no matter how aloof or apathetic they may be. It eventually pays off.
  • Domestic Abuse: As it turns out, Bill Welbrock is such a nasty drunk that he can be subjected to violent mood swings. At one point, Mason and his step-brother walk into their parents' garage to find Olivia on the ground crying, with Bill angrily noting that she fell on her own accord.
  • Everything is Big in Texas: Averted. The director is from Texas, and presents a very realistic depiction of life in the state: with cities and towns of every size and a diverse array of characters. Though the main character does, at one point, get a gun and a Bible for his 15th birthday. (in interviews, Linklater calls this the "redneck Bar Mitzvah")
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: The protagonist as well as his sister and mother's haircut change throughout the movie, indicating the lapse of time. Notably Mason Jr's hair tends to be longer when he's going through a rough patch in life, and shorter when he's happier (the Traumatic Haircut is the exception). Likewise Olivia favours bobs and short styles when she's married or in a serious relationship. When the relationships end, she allows her hair to grow out.
  • Happily Married: Mason Sr and Annie. They get married when Mason is a preteen and remain together for the rest of the film.
  • Jerkass: Most characters that show up in the movie are this to Mason - both his stepdads, his sister, some Obama hater, his boss, his mom can sometimes be unreasonable to him too. Mason himself can apply once he becomes a teenager.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Aside from his abusive alcoholic stepdad, the jerks that have a fair amount of screen time reveal to have their moments, particularly Mason's sister.
  • Long Hair Is Feminine: Bill has Mason's hair shaved to a buzzcut because he believes this.
  • Mean Boss: Played straight and averted. Played straight when Mason Jr.'s boss who complains he's not picking up the pace enough as a dishwasher. He goes on a childish tirade when Mason only replies "I'm trying". Averted, when said boss seems to have cultivated a positive enough relationship to go to Mason Jr.'s graduation party AND even says a small speech supporting Mason Jr. at the party.
  • Meet Cute: Invoked in a fun way. Mason meets a girl who has a crush on him. A decade later, it's implied that she's attending the same college as him.
  • Mood Whiplash: Constantly. A prime example would be when Mason and his step-brother come home from riding their bikes only to find Olivia crying on the ground presumably abused by Bill.
  • No Ending: The film doesn't have any closure. It just ends with Mason starting college and making friends.
  • No Name Given: Patricia Arquette's character is named Mom, Ethan Hawke's character is named Dad, though we learn his name is Mason, just like his son. Also, Patricia Arquette's character is called Liv or Olivia several times.
  • Nothing but Hits: Downplayed. Each Time Skip is headlined with a piece of licensed music from that year, such as Oops! I Did It Again, Somebody That I Used to Know.
  • Now What?: Olivia's basic reaction as she sees Mason Jr. leaving for college, noting how, after all this time focusing on her kids, she's now an empty nester and has nothing to look forward to but death.
  • One-Steve Limit: Possibly enforced and possibly inverted.
    • The protagonist and his father share the same first name Mason.
    • After Bill shaves Mason's head, a girl named Nicole in his class passes him a note complimenting him on his hair. Years later, after he arrives at college, a girl he flirts with on his hiking excursion is also named Nicole. However, they are played by different actresses so are likely not the same person.
  • Period Piece: Due to being shot over the course of twelve years, the film intentionally captures the cultural touchstones of each year that was featured.
  • Random Events Plot: Some criticism was thrown towards this movie for having one of these. It's somewhat justified as it doesn't have a traditional story, instead being more akin to a snapshot of life through the years.
  • Reveal Shot: The revelation shot of how Ethan Hawke's character extinguished the camp fire.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Exploited. The plot always uses whatever news was relevant when it was shot, and looking back at the film as a whole, makes each segment of the film look like a period piece.
  • Romantic False Lead: A few for Mason. Notably a girl who passes him a note in class; a girl who chats to him as he walks home from school; April, whom he flirts with at work; and Sheena, whom he has a relationship with.
  • Shirtless Scene: Mason Sr, for the sake of a dip in the lake on a camping trip.
  • Shout-Out: A few, depending on the year being shown.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Samantha is loud and aggressive while Mason is quieter and more introverted.
  • Slice of Life: The movie is a montage of everyday life situations in the early life of the protagonist.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Throughout most of the film, it goes back and forth on the scale, ending on a heartfelt, relatable, and hopeful future for Mason.
  • So Proud of You: Mason Sr. gets several chances to express this to his son, and particularly expresses the sentiment as the latter is about to graduate high school and head out for college.
  • The Talk: Mason Sr. has an awkward one with the teenage Samantha about using condoms when he finds out she has a boyfriend.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Aversion with the daring concept of using the same actors over a span of twelve years.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Mason gets one from his abusive step dad.
  • Tranquil Fury: During Mason Jr's late homecoming he is fed up with everyone getting on his case and actually states he's tired of it claiming he's probably had enough with people controlling his life.
  • Underwear Swimsuit: At one point in the movie, Mason and his father take a swim in their undies.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Mason competes for his father's affection at times whenever his sister starts boasting about her grades to him. Bill's son is implied to feel this way when Bill starts to show favor to Mason.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • In-Universe, the Mason Jr. and Samantha wonder what will happen to their step-siblings after their mother leaves Bill. Olivia has no parental rights, so they're left with their violent, alcoholic father and can only hope that the courts and social services intervene. We never see them again, though that doesn't necessarily mean Mason and Samantha didn't.
    • A straight example is Jim, Mason Jr.'s second stepfather. He vanishes during one of the time skips and is not directly referenced afterwards, beyond a few oblique references to their mother's ex-husbands and Mason Jr. idly bringing up "the parade of drunken assholes" when discussing his homelife at the end.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Inverted. Stepfather Bill is abusive. However stepmother Annie is very nice. Her marriage to Mason Sr. is the only one that's still intact and stable at the end.
  • You're Not My Father: Mason says this to Jim when discussing his late homecoming. According to the director, Olivia and Jim never married - so this may be what Mason was getting at.