Tempus fugit

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.

Richard Linklater and Ellar Coltrane: changing the face of cinema, quite literally

Richard Linklater and Ellar Coltrane: changing the face of cinema, quite literally

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.”

Mason Jr. and his female friend = the new Jesse and Celine?

Mason Jr. and his female friend = the new Jesse and Celine?

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.”

"If there's any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it's almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt." - Celine

“If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.” – Celine

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:

  1. The power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.
  2. Mysterious tricks, such as making things disappear and appear again, performed as entertainment.
  3. A quality that makes something seem removed from everyday life, especially in a way that gives delight.
  4. 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.

"We are the three best friends that anyone could have..."

“We are the three best friends that anyone could have…”

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 BoyhoodCeline 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.

A now iconic movie poster for a now iconic film

A now iconic movie poster for a now iconic film

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.


A Dream Deferred

Until I was around twelve years old, I wanted to be a ballerina.  This is not an uncommon dream for many little girls, but I was slightly more serious than most of my ballet slipper-wearing counterparts in the town where I grew up.  I used to check out as many ballet videotapes as I could from my local library while also building my own collection thanks to birthday and Christmas gifts from my parents.  I’d spend hours watching Swan Lake, the Nutcracker (with MacCaulay Culkin riding his post-Home Alone 90s fame to the New York City Ballet…odd choice), Giselle with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova, and my very favorite: Romeo & Juliet starring Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev.  I had at least twenty different books about ballet technique from the Ballet Book with Darcey Bussell and the Royal Ballet School to Stories from the Ballet to my favorite which was a tattered copy of A Very Young Dancer by Jill Krementz.  This last book chronicles the life of a ten year old student at the School of American Ballet and her role as Marie in the Nutcracker back in 1976 (hence the tattered cover).

I figured myself a ballet expert by the tender age of seven years old.  Many of my friends didn’t exactly understand my obsession with tights and leotards, dancing princes, and supernatural stories, but I didn’t care.  Whenever a touring company would come through to the University of Missouri, my mother would put me in the car and we’d drive thirty minutes to see my favorite ballets performed live, much to my (and also her) great delight.  I can still remember the way the dancers in the Corps seemed to just float across the stage on pointe with their bourrees in Act II of Giselle.  It was magic.

Though I already possessed a great love of dance at an early age, my parents didn’t enroll me in classes until I was five, wanting to make sure I was truly serious enough to pay attention in class and actually learn the technique.  So at five, I was put into classes at a local studio where I went once a week to learn to dance.  Though it was an all-inclusive studio in terms of styles, we naturally started with ballet.  I learned things quickly and thanks to my intense study of my favorite dancers at home, my technique was better than anyone else in class.  When I was around twelve, my mom enrolled me in a pointe class at a separate dance studio in town, and I soon became accustomed to the blisters, calluses, blood, and agony that is the beauty of dancing on pointe.  I was also extremely tall at twelve, standing a head above most of the other girls in my class.  By the time I graduated high school, I had reached my current height of 5’10”.  Tall for a ballet dancer usually means about 5’7″ and I was well over that by the time I started pointe.

My height wasn’t the first sign my career in the ballet wasn’t meant to be.  I loved dance and with the studying of other styles, I began to love tap and modern.  Oh that first modern class was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.  Other interests took over too: acting, singing, playing instruments.  And I kept reading.  The more I read about the ballet dancers I loved so greatly, the more I realized how intense and time-consuming their training truly was.  If I wanted to be a professional ballerina, I should have been in class six days a week for at least 3-4 hours a day at a serious studio in a bigger city.  Dancing is not only a profession but a lifestyle because of its grueling physical exercise coupled with a restrictive, healthy diet.  If you decide to devote your life to ballet, you really don’t have time to do anything beyond that.  I wanted to be free to explore all my artistic avenues, so my ballet dream began dying like Giselle’s weakened heart.

Or Juliet after stabbing herself.  Or the Swan Princess.  You can pretty much take your pick of any of ballet’s heroines.  For the most part, it just doesn’t turn out well.

It was sad giving up my ballet dream.  I know if I had grown up in a bigger city with more studios, I could have had the opportunity to enhance my technique and possibly progress further.  My turnout would be better.  I’d be more flexible.  If I worked hard enough, I could maybe have danced in the corps de ballet of some company somewhere.  But none of that came to pass.  Whenever I’m at Lincoln Center, I look a bit wistfully on the young girls leaving ballet class at the School of American Ballet (the feeder program into the New York City Ballet, which has been my favorite ballet company since birth).  I’m so jealous of their opportunity to study at the place that George Balanchine built, but more than that, it’s like looking at an alternate reality of me.  I could have been one of them in another life if some things had gone differently.  Some of those girls will dance roles I love, some of them will be in the corps, and some of them will turn out like me: pursuing other passions with equal diligence and love as they did dance careers.

I still have such love and respect for the ballet and its dancers even though my little girl dream never turned into a grown up reality.  I think part of me knew I’d never truly become the next Fonteyn or Kirkland or Farrell, but it was fun to pretend that I could.  Perhaps this is why I chose acting instead: because I loved make-believe and fairy tales and I was already so good at pretending.  All the lessons I learned from ballet and studying it (whether in class or on my own at home) can be applied to acting: posture, physicality, composure, elegance, discipline, respect for the art-form.  I’ve always been graceful and had a natural ability for dance, but I think deeper dreams have always existed inside of me, even if I never started unearthing them until I was a little older.

Although I’ll never dance for NYCB or ABT, I still take ballet classes once in awhile at Ailey here in the City.  It feels familiar, like an old friend, when I start my pliés and tendus at the barre.  There is a comfort in the structure of ballet: the barrework, petite allegro, adagio, grande allegro, turns, reverance.  Even the aches and pains afterward feel familiar and not altogether unwelcome.  For a few minutes, I am the realization of my eight year-old self’s dream: I am a ballet dancer in New York City.  It’s not exactly what I had in mind when I was just a little girl in the middle of Missouri dreaming of becoming a ballerina, but it’s close enough.