Has Linklater Ever Made Anything That Anticipated “Boyhood”‘s Innovations?


The passage of time has been a consistent thematic concern in the films of Richard Linklater, whether reflecting on a vanishing era in Dazed and Confused (1993) and The Newton Boys (1998), or, in the case of Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013), following two lives (played by the same actors) in nine-year intervals. Boyhood (2014) is arguably his most ambitious and focused work in this mode, and, in many ways, a logical progression from his past body of work.

In terms of style, many have noted that the film seems to avoid easy signposts like birthdays, weddings or funerals. When landmark life events do factor into the film, they’re only addressed after they’ve past or when they figure in the background, similar to how Yasujiro Ozu handles such material in his films. All of this is typical of Linklater’s unassuming approach to storytelling, which is usually more focused on spending time with his characters and observing how they interact than forwarding plot. As Linklater describes it, there are no plot contrivances, “Boyhood would be all these little things that get cut out of other movies and that don’t have a place in a traditional plot but that have a lot room in our lives.”

With its unusual filmmaking process, developing the personality of the lead character, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), was somewhat out of Linklater’s hands; remarkably, Mason shares many similarities with the types of characters that usually lead Linklater’s films. Linklater knew the character was at the mercy of the actor’s own growth in real life - he had no idea what a six-year-old Coltrane would become in his teenage years. However, as noted by Sight & Sound magazine, Mason became “the type of curious, selectively garrulous, gently nonconformist dreamer essayed by Wiley Wiggins in Dazed and Confused (1993) and Waking Life (2001).

While Boyhood is a singular achievement both in cinematic history and in Richard Linklater’s filmography, it is, in many ways, the culmination of the themes and character types he has developed throughout his career.