Boyhood is not only one of the best films of the year, it is an outstanding narration on the passage of time.

Epic and exceptional are words that don’t even begin to describe Boyhood – easily one of the best films of contemporary cinema and writer/director Richard Linklater’s masterpiece. In terms of craftmanship alone, this film is simply incomparable to anything Hollywood has produced in the last decade or perhaps even more. That’s because this film is beyond the realms of make-believe or movie magic or anything remotely close to Hollywood flamboyance.

As an independent production there can be no better depiction of art imitating life. In its entirety this film is a beautiful but huge canvas about milestones in life including phases of inevitable ugliness, aspirations for the future, mistakes of the past, uncertainty of the present and much more. All this is derived from the film’s core component and that is the devastating as well as healing properties of time. It is time that dictates everything, starting with the 12-year period it took to shoot and produce this film, while using the same actors. Linklater began filming in 2002, by painstakingly assembling a larger than life portrait of a boy destined to become a man. The opening scene is angled down on a patch of grass as six-year-old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) gazes up at the sky. We don’t know what he’s thinking but it’s clear his mind is abuzz with the uncertainty of what lies ahead. We soon learn Mason and his sister Samantha (Linklater’s daughter Lorelei in a breakout role) are products of a broken marriage. Mom (Patricia Arquette) has custody of the kids but is in and out of bad relationships. She struggles to find some sort of balance between being a single mother and her job as a college professor while frequently moving house. Dad (Ethan Hawke) is a loner who often has to drive long distances to see his kids. He is pretty much a man who is still a boy. There are moments when Dad and Mom interact, giving Mason a sliver of hope that his parents eventually reconcile their differences. Then the years go by, and over time we watch Mason and his sister literally grow up on screen.

At times Boyhood resembles a sitcom without the comedy. But have you ever seen characters morph and age naturally in one sitting? Filming in sequential intervals, Linklater documents the highs and lows of growing up as we follow Mason all the way till he’s 17-years-old and ready to leave the nest. We hear his voice crack, we see him sprout facial hair, we feel his warm fuzziness as he finds himself attracted to girls, and then his pain when he is heartbroken. While this is happening, we are put in Mason’s perspective as his sister, mother and father go through several phases in life. There is so much happening around Mason that the film could have been titled ‘Life’, and it would have still worked the way it does. As such, everything that happens just feels genuine and that’s largely due to Linklater’s improvised and intuitive script. And even though the story is scripted, you still feel like you are watching real people go about their day-to-day lives. While you won’t find timestamps to indicate years going by, the story is embedded with subtle cues like period music, the end of the Bush Administration and various other world events.

Every character is developed over time and the actors portraying them are so sensational, you think you have known them your whole life. Coltrane especially is an instant standout. There are several frames of Mason just staring into space. He’s a dreamer but with a stern eye for detail. When he eventually decides to become a photographer, a teacher tells him there’s no scope in art. Boy is he wrong!

By just watching Boyhood you become a part of cinematic history. Something like this has never been done before simply because modern art suffers from hyperbolic commercialisation often referred to as ‘entertainment’. While it is still very entertaining, it is not the type of film where the makers expect to triple each dollar spent to produce it. In fact, all they spent was $4 million, that too, over a period of 12 years. It just goes to say that some of the greatest things in life are virtually free, if we only know where to look for it.

2014 is already a good year for films. Boyhood just made it phenomenal by a long shot as one of the most outstanding films ever made. Once you watch it, it stays with you, latched on somewhere inside. And speaking of time, its 165 minutes running time flashes by in the blink of an eye – just like life.

Rating: ★★★★★

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.