I FINALLY SAW BOYHOOD
My reaction to a beautiful film
Boyhood is a fantastically great movie. My friend Jonathan told me he saw it early in the summer. He told me he thought it seemed like exactly the sort of film I’d enjoy.
Jonathan was absolutely correct.
Deanna and I went into the Bijou Art Cinema today. Three hours later we left knowing that we had just uncovered a new favorite. I can’t really remember the last time a film reverberated with me the way Boyhood did. I feel like almost all of the movies that stir something within me these days have been animated Pixar films.
It was a long one… I think we were in the theatre for somewhere close to three hours. It paces itself slowly and doesn’t move through its story in a hurry. In fact, if you’re just watching any given scene, it doesn’t even seem like there’s much of a story going on. It’s only when you zoom way, way out that you can get glimpses of the broader story, and that’s where I found it to be most beautiful.
Some people think this movie will get some Oscar buzz. I could care less, and while part of me wants great art to be shared with as many people as possible, there’s another part that thinks this was just so personal that it shouldn’t be given that big stage. That’s totally selfish, I know, and it isn’t fair to all the artists involved. But that’s just my tendency.
Anyways, it’s too late. This movie is already fairly popular. Of course, the story that people seem to be more concerned with is the story behind its production, rather than the story it depicts. By this point, most people are familiar with the laborious concept of Richard Linklater directing this production bit by bit over the span of twelve years while the child actors grow up, and the adult actors too, for that matter. It’s an impressive feat, but while everyone dissects its production or dismisses it as a gimmick, the fictional story that unfolds on the screen is what gets me.
It’s the one that unfolds so slowly that it takes twelve years to make and three hours to watch. It isn’t for everyone. In fact, part of the reason I don’t want it to get overhyped is that I don’t want a bunch of people dismissing it as simply boring. It’s subtle, but boring just isn’t the right word.
I’m a “big picture” type person. This can be helpful and harmful. I always have the tendency to want to zoom out my lens as far away as possible and look at life with a wide angle. I want to know why doing the things I do will matter. I want to know what impact the stuff I do today will have on my life in four years. I feel like I’m wired this way much more than other people. And Boyhood seems to be tailor made to speak to that part of me. The part that wonders what this life will look like in retrospect.
The kid in Boyhood has, for the most part, a pretty ordinary life. That’s not to say he had any moments of significance, but the circumstances that shape the way he grows up are ones that are familiar to most people. A high school sweetheart. A single mom. An abusive stepfather. Some of the moments are so ordinary that they don’t seem like the sort of thing that belongs on the big screen. But in those last moments, when the kid enters adulthood, there’s this moment where I realized that when you piece together all those granular details of our lives and take a good look at the places we’ve been and the things we’ve been through, the results are usually breathtaking.
It’s got to be why those montages of home videos of a bride and groom become so compelling to watch during a wedding when they’re done well.
I wonder why this movie resonated the way it did, and I’m thinking that this is simply a case of perfect timing. I think of other films in the past that have made me feel strongly. There’s Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, and I think I related to that so strongly was because at the time I came upon it, a breakup felt like the real end of the world. There’s Into The Wild and I loved that when I felt most like an outsider.
Boyhood strikes at a time when everything is in transition. When I see one era of my life come to an end and I step forward into whole new territory. That change gets me reevaluating my life as a whole, looking back and finally seeing a ton of value in the things I used to see as ordinary and commonplace.
What coming home at the end of a school day felt like in high school.
The mornings I would get up an extra hour early so I could spend more time in my car after I first got my license.
My first apartment and the way I had all of my dirt cheap furniture arranged.
Sometimes all these ordinary moments are so plain in and of themselves, but when you piece them together to form the grander tapestry of life itself, you can’t help but be blown away by even the most simple aspects.
I’ve been feeling that a lot these days.
The past month has been a total whirlwind. In August, I got engaged and left California for Oregon. I always felt that one day I would move out of state and I finally did. As if those two major life changes weren’t enough, we also managed to fit in going to see Simon’s first soccer game and joining my cousins for a family reunion in Las Vegas.
And now we’re here. Able to slow things down and let it sink in that a whole era of our lives has ended. Childhood? We’re in our mid-twenties so technically that ended a while ago. But perhaps we’re in a stage that’s less about discovering the world and more about building something. Something from the ground up.
In the meantime, this entire year has been a whirlwind, hasn’t it? In March I decided on Oregon as our next home and in April, we nearly died. The following month we saw two very major tragedies strike the two communities where I’ve felt the most at home. Then came the summer and its roller coaster ride of journeys and trips and reunions. So many good things, so many good things. My cup is running over, and so is the bucket I set up to catch all of its surplus.
I find myself more thankful than ever to simply be alive. To be able to breathe in and take it all.
In the past, I’ve always been the type to avoid negativity and chase after whatever was fun and good. I’m an optimist, perhaps almost to a fault, where I have a hard time giving hardships and sadness an appropriate amount of space in my head to do their thing. I’m more designed to chase after the next big adventure, and to move right ahead.
In previous years, my goal had always been to maximize on good things, minimize on bad things, and grade on that scale. It was simple. But that’s not what life is, and as I’m realizing that now.
When it comes to major life experiences, good times don’t necessarily make hard times less difficult, but hard times also don’t invalidate the good. After we attended the memorial service for three friends, Deanna and I stayed at my aunt’s place, and she showed us old photographs, and told us stories, vignettes of her richly experienced life.
She choked up when she talked about my late Uncle. The thrills of their first date (I mean, he picked her up in his personal airplane, so it’s tough to top that!) as well as the challenge of them finally getting older and her having to take care of him in his last years. She told me about her challenges of being the oldest sibling and having to work extremely hard to provide for all those who came after her.
And those stories made me believe all the more, a fully lived life will consist of both highs and lows, some of them unimaginably high or low. But altogether, they make us fully human, and there’s something beautiful about that.
I started to think that life can be both really, really difficult, and really, really good.
Over the course of nearly three hours we watched a boy grow up. I don’t want to spoil the movie in case you haven’t seen it, but the kid goes through a lot. We got to see the boy and his sister sit through the midst of a family crisis, of a heated domestic incident. We saw him bullied and offered pot at various points of his life. We also saw lighthearted moments. Hilarious interactions between him and his sister. A budding romance and a failed romance. Political rants from his dad. And at the end, we see him go off to college, and we feel a sense of amazement at how time went by. At the same time, we realize how full his life has been of all these moments that allowed him to feel things and to experience humanness. The film was a work of art, and even in spite of the heavier moments of the kid’s story, the ending inspired a sort of gratitude.
The message I received was that life is beautiful. Not just in the mountaintop experience sort of way, but also in the coffee shops and Tex Mex restaurants, in playing with the neighbors, and in difficult times.
It’s kind of like what Joe Biden said after the tragedy at UCSB– one day you’ll remember the things you lost tragically and they’ll bring a smile to your face before they bring a tear to your eye.
One of the scenes that I felt the strongest was the scene where his stepfather drunkenly lashes out at the kid and puts his family’s life in danger. While I felt so scared for the kid, and so angry at the stepdad, I felt an ability to relate.
Let me be clear, my stepdad was a good stepdad and never did anything like that.
But I know what it’s like to be at odds with your parents. To feel scared. To be betrayed by someone who you thought was safe.
And while I wish these experiences on nobody at all, I realize that my life as it is wouldn’t be complete without those moments. Without fear or tragedy. They have their place.
And I felt like I could see the beauty in my life much more sharply after factoring in those pieces. In making pasta and in bowls of pho and in sitting with a good book for an hour. And in some more of the mountaintop experiences.
Every since I’ve started my 365 project, I’ve noticed an increase in other people who are doing a photo a day as well. I’m glad. I think it helps us become more observant of the bigger picture, more thankful for life, and more appreciative of the ordinary. One thing that has bugged me, though, is the title some people have given their project– 365 Days of Happiness.
What if, God forbid, someone in their family gets hurt or passes away before the year is up?
My past year has not been 365 days of happiness. I’ve had one day I can consider the greatest day of my life. Four or five of pure elation. About seven days of devastation and tragedy. Forty days of hoping for something. About ninety days of just trudging through some routine. Maybe thirty days or so of pure contentment, twenty of uncertainty, and a dozen or two of feeling pretty good.
That’s what life looks like.
It’s not just happiness. It’s fullness. And it’s beautiful.