"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
The Observer doesn't do a lot of movie reviews, but we're going to do one now, for director Richard Linklater's amazing, inspiring, somewhat depressing (depending on how far you are from childhood and parenthood) film "Boyhood."
The Observer and Junior, now 14 and starting school at Central High this week (Go Tigers!), went and saw it on Saturday night. Junior, who may be too close to the source material to detect the shape of the elephant, hated it. His Old Man, meanwhile, found it to be a poem written in light.
You may know the film we're talking about. It's the one where, back in 2002, Linklater hired a bunch of actors and then got together with them in Texas every year for 12 years and made a segment of the film, thereby charting the growth of a boy named Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), along with his sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), their mom (Patricia Arquette) and dad (Ethan Hawke). Coltrane was 6 years old when filming started. He was 18 and off to college by the time the credits rolled.
While the plot of "Boyhood" is no great shakes — well-meaning people living lives of quiet desperation, though Hawke is excellent as a somewhat flaky father — it's the technical achievement of the thing that's a triumph. Other films have tried to do what "Boyhood" succeeds at: showing the true passage of time, which is always flowing invisibly over us, carrying away pieces of our sand until there is nothing left. While you can see that progression in slow motion on a long-running TV show, with the cute kids growing up and getting lanky as the years pile on, it's apparently the first time it's been done in a narrative film, and definitely the first time it's been done so compactly.
The Observer, being officially a Vintage American now, found just as much pathos in the crowsfeet and paunches Hawke and Arquette gathered through the years as we did in the Stretch Armstrong growth of the kids involved. The adults in the flick are dang near kids themselves when the film starts, full of piss and vinegar, hot in blue jeans, still finding their way from childhood to parenthood. By the end, they look like real estate agents sliding into Foxy Grandpa and Grandma territory, having acquired mortgages and minivans and silver in their hair. What a difference 12 years can make, my friend. Where were you 12 years ago?
A lovely thing Linklater has made, then, full of subtle commentaries about one generation coming on while another slips past, the endless chain of life, emerging from The Great Before, shining in the light for a while, and then disappearing into The Great After. Fortune! Spin thy wheel!
It's the only film The Observer can recall being so smitten with that we clapped after it, which embarrassed our young cinema buddy damn near to death. Our wholehearted recommendation: Go and see it, so you can tell your friends you had the foresight to see the Best Picture Oscar winner and American classic before almost anybody else did. Junior's recommendation, meanwhile, is: Save your money and buy pizza and Mountain Dew. Wisdom is going to have to overrule youth this time.
And another thing: going to see a film about children growing up and parents growing older with Junior on the weekend before he started high school might not have been the best idea The Observer has ever had. You ever seen a grown man cry into his jumbo extra-butter popcorn and 83-ounce kidneyblaster soda? It's ugly, folks. Real ugly.
And, yet another thing: The Observer got to Central High early on Monday afternoon, docked the Mobile Observatory on 16th Street, and got out, determined to score a photo of Junior emerging from the great pile of knowledge on his first day, the photo we couldn't get in the morning. We're so proud of him, and of the fact that he's attending a school that has so much historic resonance for The Observer personally, that vast, brick-and-mortar symbol of the courage ordinary people can have in the face of injustice. Back in the Stone Age of 1992, Junior's Old Man graduated out in the sticks of Saline County with 17 people, and nary a black or brown person among them. But we have always been a Tiger at heart.
School let out, and the great throng emerged. The Observer was standing in the shade of a leaning Witness Oak there at 16th and Park when two young women — one white, one black, clearly in a romantic relationship — passed on the sidewalk, holding hands, smiling and chatting about their day. Seeing them, The Observer couldn't help but smile our damn self. We couldn't help but think: It ain't 1957 no more, son.
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