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Protestante Digital

José de Segovia

Boyhood: time goes by

Paradoxically, the greatest thing about Boyhood is its smallness: twelve years in the life of one individual, with his sorrows, joys, and constant questioning.

BETWEEN THE LINES AUTOR 1/Jose_de_Segovia TRADUCTOR Esther Barrett 29 DE ENERO DE 2015 10:50 h
Boyhood review Christian opinion The film follows the life of a boy from age 6 to 18

The passing of time makes humans feel a certain melancholy. In an interview given during the presentation of Boyhood, the actor Ethan Hawke said that he did not believe that there was a single human being who was not heartbroken by witnessing the passing of the years. This impressive film by the Director of the Before… series – Richard Linklater –, filmed over a twelve-year period, is an exceptional reflection on the passage of time.

Most films try to show the passage of time in the faces of the actors, or by using different actors for different stages of the characters’ lives. The problem is that, regardless of the makeup they wear, or the likeness between the actors, the spectator can never quite believe that it is the same person after that period of time. However, as we see the physical changes in the characters in Boyhood, we start to think that this story could show us life as it really is.

Boyhood is not a documentary. It is a work of fiction, using the same actors over more than a decade. It follows the childhood and adolescence of a boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), from age 6 in 2002, to 18, when he starts university. He has a sister, Samantha – played by the director’s daughter–, and they live with his mother – Patricia Arquette, whom they call Mom–. She gets divorced at the beginning of the film from their somewhat irresponsible and intermittently present father – Ethan Hawke, whom the kids call Dad–, who is nevertheless intent on not losing contact with his children.


Ethan Hawke is a father who is not very responsible, but still wanting to be in touch with his children.


The parents have various different relationships and remarry; they get jobs and lose them. The children go to school and fight; they grow up, go to high school and then to university; they move house and make new friends; fall in love and have their hearts broken. A life, just like ours, sometimes idyllic, often chaotic, and almost always confusing. The boy focuses on what we all tend to focus on, ourselves, being more interested in what happens in our personal life than in the world around us.

The film raises a number of serious issues, such as divorce, which is ever more present in cinema, as seen from the point of view of children who recall how they lived through it. Up to now adults seem to have dominated the conversation, with their frustrated dreams of happiness and their hopes for a new life. The time has come for the “divorce generation” to reveal all its bitterness. Other issues raised include domestic violence, alcoholism and the financial crisis, but above all, the strange way in which life goes on, in spite of everything. Those who were born in this millennium will be reminded of their childhood and adolescence, and the inevitable passage of time.

If I tell you that the film is almost three hours long, you may think that it is a typical French cinematographic exercise in watching the paint dry – to use Gene Hackman’s much quoted line in Night Moves (1977)–. In reality, two hours go by without you even realising it. The film flows incredibly naturally; one scene or sequence ends and the next picks up years later, without anything seeming out of joint or needing explanation. Those moments are more than just fragments. They reflect life itself.


The film reflects on our first love and our first disappointments.


The film covers twelve years in the life of one individual, with his sorrows, joys, and constant questioning. The Texan director is interested in recording the passage of time, as seen in the story of the couple, Jesse and Celine, in the trilogy “Before…”, meeting for one day only, on three occasions over eighteen years. We see changes in the faces of the actors, marking the passing of time. Paradoxically, the greatest thing about “Boyhood” is its smallness, and it therefore lacks the solemnity of great films. Its stories are anodyne fragments of a life which appears to develop with disarming simplicity and at random.  However, therein lies the secret to its significance as a film. 

Through Mason’s story, we also follow the events of a period in the history of the United States: the Bush era and Obama’s victory. Music also plays a role in marking the passage of time, through some of the more memorable songs of those years – from Coldplay’s “Yellow” to Arcade Fire’s “Deep Blue”, also including classics by the Beatles and Bob Dylan, which haven’t been forgotten by young people –. The characters read the Harry Potter books and discuss the Star Wars prequels, showing a whole generation in which the technology of video games and smart phones plays an essential role.

From the first scene, in which Mason lies on the grass watching the clouds go by, to his last line, we see that life is “constant, the moments, it’s just — it’s like it’s always right now”. Time flies by so rapidly that “Mom” is surprised when her son goes to university, wondering: “what's next? Huh? My f****** funeral?”. This harks back to Linklater’s second film –Dazed and Confused–, in which one of the adolescents says: “I'd like to quit thinking of the present, like right now, as some minor, insignificant preamble to something else.”


Mason lives with his divorced mother, she reads Harry Potter books to him.


“Boyhood” does not fan a feeling of nostalgia, because it is not struggling against time. As the Director warned in “Before Sunrise” – in the words of the Poet W.H. Auden –: “you cannot conquer time”. This is what Christians call the mystery of providence. The Latin principle of “carpe diem” –making the most of the present– is a reaction to this, but the Bible offers a better solution…

As of the 1970s, the use of the split screen, which we see in some television series today, started to be popular. The image shows us two different perspectives, which we can compare simultaneously. The biblical narrative can also be seen from two points of view: the human and the divine. We can see both the “accidents of history” and the workings of a sovereign God. Thus Daniel (1:1–2) contrasts Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest with God’s design. Man proposes, but God disposes.

The problem is that the participants in the drama have little or no awareness of what God is doing in and through their lives. They cannot see the end from the beginning, as we do not have direct access to God’s mind, or know the details of his plan or purpose. The narrator of the Scriptures knows what God is doing because he can look back, with the advantage of knowing how the story ends. He sees His invisible footprints in the development of what God is doing to accomplish his plans. This is how, as Christians, we read the Old Testament.


Few times a film shows the same actor through the years.


The Scriptures illuminate the darkness of our lives, not because we are able to interpret God’s design, but because his Word gives us wisdom. It is a lamp at our feet (Psalm 119:105). Even when we find ourselves in darkness, groping around to find our way, we know that his Invisible Hand is there. We do not see it, and cannot trace its designs, or understand its aims, but we know that it is there and, more importantly, who He is: the God of Abraham and Jacob, the patriarchs and the apostles, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus says: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10). Life passes us by, but Christ gives us that full life, which John calls “eternal life”. A lot of things seem to happen in our life by accident. We do not understand them now, and will perhaps never understand them this side of eternity. This is what the puritan, John Flavel, meant when he said that the providence of God, like Hebrew, can only be read backwards.

We see our lives as if in a split screen, where both the sovereignty of God over every detail in our lives, and the contingencies and unpredictable events of the world in which we live play a part. From the human perspective, everything could happen in a different way. But we also recognise that, in the midst of our confusion, circumstance and the surprises served up by life, there is a sovereign God in heaven, whose Hand is over every moment of every day.

The God that reigns over every inch of the universe assures us that nothing occurs by accident. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.” (Mathew 10:29). Those who have God as their Father and who love him know that “all things work for good to them” (Romans 8:28). Not because they know exactly what God is doing in this unpredictable world, but because that which is unpredictable for us, has already been predicted by Him. He had established the purpose of our lives and had counted our days, even before we were born (Psalm 129:16). We can trust in him. 




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