I saw Richard Linklater’s extraordinary new film Boyhood opening weekend (at the always cool IFC Center here in Manhattan) and was treated to a Q&A with the man himself and his star, the miraculous Ellar Coltrane, following the film. Chances are, you’ve probably been reading and hearing a lot about this film the last two weeks or so, and not without reason does it have a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It is quietly moving, honest, and completely lovely; full of the real stuff of life that seems insignificant, but upon rumination, it is actually the important stuff. It’s the stuff that shapes who you are.
And it got me thinking (and continuing to think as it is over a week ago I saw the film) about life.
But it also got me thinking about magic: both fictional and real.
Whether it’s coincidental or not, magic seems to be a recurring theme in the film. In one scene, Mason’s mother (a sublime Patricia Arquette) reads from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets before bedtime. In another scene, Mason and his sister, Samantha (played with feistiness by Lorelai Linklater), dress up and attend a midnight book party for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. They’re wide-eyed and excited, clutching their newly purchased books to their chests like precious treasure. A third scene has Mason asking his father (the always reliably affable Ethan Hawke) about magic and elves. “Right this second, there’s like, no elves in the world, right?” he asks tentatively. And this propels his father into a wonderful moment of vocal philosophizing about the definition of magic itself. He explains that magic could very well be the fact we have whales so huge you can swim through their arteries, but is that magic? He doesn’t know. When Mason asks again, this time a little more pointedly, his father answers, “Technically, no elves.”
The last scene of Boyhood features a now nineteen year-old Mason sitting on a rock in the wilderness of Texas with a girl he’s just met that day, his first of college. They’re talking about life. “You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment?” she asks. “I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us.” He replies, “Yeah, I know, it’s constant, the moments, it’s just — it’s like it’s always right now, you know?” And just as he’s saying that, the sun is setting, and you know you’re glimpsing another fleeting, magical moment, but like Mason, you’re hopeful, because you know another one will come along if you ground yourself in the present. And THAT right there got me thinking about another of my favorite Linklater films, Before Sunrise (really just that whole trilogy, but the first especially). In a scene in that particular film which is all about seizing those fleeting moments, Celine says to Jesse, “If there’s any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something.”
So is that magic? Connecting with someone else on an almost spiritual level? The kind of magic we’re accustomed to is often the kind associated with witches and wizards like Harry Potter where there are spells and people are transformed. If you really think about it, all magic is about doing something to another person: cursing them, making them fall in love with you, changing them or yourself in some way. The Oxford Dictionary defines magic in four ways:
- The power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.
- Mysterious tricks, such as making things disappear and appear again, performed as entertainment.
- A quality that makes something seem removed from everyday life, especially in a way that gives delight.
- Something that has a delightfully unusual quality.
So if we look at it this way, as magic being something that seems delightfully removed from everyday life that influences the course of the events in a life, then we really DO experience magic in the real world. Mason’s father wasn’t wrong and neither was Celine: magic is very real and present. I don’t think Richard Linklater featured Harry Potter in two scenes of Boyhood without reason; not only have the books changed the lives of millions of readers around the world in profound ways, but so too do Harry, Ron, and Hermione experience the magic of growing up, forging friendships, and discovering love (among other things like battling dark wizards and basically saving humanity). Magic is ever present in all those milestones of life, big and small.
Celine and Jesse experience that magic as they wander the streets of Vienna, talking for hours and essentially falling in love. I’ve written about it before, but we’ve all had those moments of connection with someone else. It’s usually those moments we actually FEEL life happening to us and around us; we become acutely aware of our own mortality and the preciousness of it all. It’s the thing where you feel infinite and finite at the same time. Mason Jr. becomes aware of it at the end of Boyhood. Celine and Jesse know it too. And so too do we when we allow ourselves to be swept up in those moments, to be seized by them the way Mason’s female companion posits during their conversation. And those moments are also usually the ones that transform us with their magic, because our lives are never quite the same afterwards. I just felt it late last Wednesday night as a guy and I recklessly climbed ladders to the roof of his office building just to look at the Empire State Building and essentially, each other. To hold hands and talk about life, both of us sensing it was the start of something new and treating that beautiful fragility with reverence and wonder, because we know it will never be like that ever again; we will never have these moments again.
Boyhood often is about the mundane of life, but further examination reveals the mundane is the magical. So often we remember these small things more so than the milestones. The little setbacks and victories. The way your mom would make breakfast. Summer days spent riding bikes and drawing with sidewalk chalk. Long conversations to your best friend on the phone. Or maybe harboring a crush on a college professor. Or climbing on a roof to look at the city lights with someone just because you’re young and feel invincible. Things DO change, people DO change, and that’s the magic of it all. Time is magic, because as it passes, it transforms you and the world around you. You’re always under its spell.
Just as he’s leaving for college in Boyhood, Mason’s mother is crying and poignantly admits, “I thought there’d be more.” So do we. All the more reason to appreciate whatever time and magic we’ve got.
*Run to see Boyhood whenever it hits your local multiplex. Heck, even drive to a showing nearby if it’s not. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of movie. Truly something special.