Richard Linklater is one of those rare film directors whose output I’m always compelled by; there’s a meditative streak to the best of his work that I’m really drawn to. It’s there in the stoned, brink-of-adulthood ruminations of SubUrbia (1996), and the hypnotic, dreamlike conversations of Waking Life (2001). For all of its visual flamboyance, its that same philosophical bent that drives 2006’s (much underrated and under-appreciated ) A Scanner Darkly. And where Linklater’s love for language and ideas really blossoms, of course, is with the Before… trilogy (…Sunrise (1995); …Sunset (2004); & …Midnight (2013)): a cinematic triptych that has a special place in my heart - its characters re-visited every nine years and almost exactly that same distance removed from my own age so that it feels oddly personal, like a visit from the ghost of relationships future.
Not having any knowledge of Boyhood (2014) until shortly before its release, I had a hard time picturing how cinema could match Linklater’s Before… films for the powerful pull of watching a life unfold. (The works coming closest to this in recent years are less grounded, more synesthetic pieces like Malick’s (stunning) Tree of Life (2011) and—in some odd, diagonal way—Aronofsky’s The Fountain (2006).) And yet, all this time, Linklater was playing himself at his own game: shooting Boyhood piecemeal over more than a decade he has put together exactly the kind of beautiful, human narrative showcased in the Before… films, but without allowing himself to cut away for the best part of a decade between sequences. Boyhood is interested in its characters in the same way as the Before… pictures and Waking Life are, and as too few other films seem to be. All of the drama plays out at a relatable level and is all the more powerful for it: no car chases, no gunfights, just the vividly rendered ups & downs of a simple life. (Or, rather, the first couple of decades of one - somewhat greedily I find myself hoping that the project will continue on and I’ll be sitting down for Manhood in 2026.)
I was so happy at this year’s Oscars to see Spike Jonze take home a richly deserved award; come March next year Linklater should also have a statue on his mantlepiece. Two easygoing auteurs with a penchant for modest personal exploration - a decade or so ago they seemed unlikely winners. But time, as Linklater’s oeuvre will inform you, has a funny way of changing things.