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.

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Before Sunrise: A Twenty-Something Perspective

Last week, I FINALLY saw the first film in Richard Linklater’s lovely trilogy (or will it be more than that?) about love and life: Before Sunrise.  It took me a little time to get my hands on a copy from the library here in New York, but I’m glad I did.  I’m right around the ages of both Jesse and Celine in the first film, and boy did THAT influence my viewing experience.  Whoa.

(Full disclosure: I go to the library generally about once a week.  It’s a habit developed in childhood when my mother would take me to story-time, and we’d leave with a giant stack of books.  As a “financially-challenged” young adult, I don’t see the point in getting Netflix when I can check out literally almost any movie or TV show on DVD for FREE.  Thanks, New York Public Library!)

Celine (Julie Delpy) & Jesse (Ethan Hawke)

Celine (Julie Delpy) & Jesse (Ethan Hawke)

The film is about two strangers who meet on a train going to Vienna, one an American (Jesse played by Ethan Hawke) and one French (Celine played by Julie Delpy).  These two twenty-somethings strike up a conversation that quickly turns into many conversations throughout the streets of Vienna.  But their blossoming romance has a time-stamp: Jesse is flying back to the U.S. the following morning.  What transpires in the course of their night together is funny, joyous, honest, and bittersweet.

I wasn’t expecting to find myself a little weepy at the end of the film (especially since I rarely cry during movies), but as the final moments played out before me, I realized I was a little more than invested in these two characters.  I understood them, because I’ve been there a little bit myself, I think.

When you really connect with another person, whether that be romantically or platonically, there is innate electricity; you feel a spark.  Jesse and Celine feel it almost immediately in the film, and I’ve felt it at various points in my life too.  It’s akin to magic; the world seems to slip away from around you, leaving just the two of you in some kind of alternate reality.

Jesse: I feel like this is, uh, some dream world we’re in, y’know.

Celine: Yeah, it’s so weird.  It’s like our time together is just ours.  It’s our own creation.  It must be like I’m in your dream, and you’re in mine or 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

I remember several endless nights like Jesse and Celine’s where I was so completely engrossed in the person I was with that time stopped.  One such night, I chronicled in this blog post, and I felt that magic.  Recently, I spent a long afternoon with that same gentleman just walking and talking around New York.  This city’s streets and neighborhoods really encourage the whole walking-and-talking scenario (paging Aaron Sorkin!).  It’s one of the things I love best about New York: you don’t have to have a destination, the journey IS the destination.  The longer we strolled, the more our conversation deepened.  We were discussing things we’d never brought up before: life, dreams, adulthood, marriage, children, aging.  It made me realize just how much of ourselves and our thoughts we keep hidden from other people, even ones we trust.  It also reminded me that all of us feel totally lost at some point or another, especially in our twenties.  He may be a few years older than me, but it doesn’t mean he has life any more figured out than I do (which I’m not sure if I find reassuring or depressing).

Jesse and Celine both ponder life’s great mysteries, and neither one of them has definitive answers either.  But in a weird way, I find all of our endless hypothesizing beautiful.  Some questions in life will be answered, and others will not; that’s just how this thing goes, I guess.  Maybe the only way to get through it all is by letting yourself be vulnerable and open to other people, to truly connect on some deeper level so you know you’re not alone.  And maybe you fall in love with that person or they become your best friend in the process.

I believe people enter into our lives for a reason.  Some people are forever in your life, and some are only there for moments.  I think we usually only ascertain that person’s purpose in retrospect, but sometimes, we’re given little moments of clarity to see them for what they’re worth and what they can teach us.  Jesse and Celine only have each other for a few precious hours in a night before they’re forced to part (though we know they meet up again in the sequel, Before Sunset) but neither one of them will be the same afterward, each etched forever in the other’s memory (and heart).  That’s what makes their parting so bittersweet, because in a short amount of time, they’ve found a soulmate…at least for the night.

Much like Jesse and Celine, my own little afternoon adventure had a timestamp too; I had to work that evening, and he had plans with other friends.  He walked me almost all the way to my final destination.  The moment for goodbyes had come.  He wrapped his arms around me, enveloping me in a tight hug.  “It was so good seeing you,” he said as he tightened his grip.  I responded, returning his embrace, “It’s been too long.  Let’s do better.”  We pulled apart, neither one of us wanting to leave even though we both had to.  So we wound up aimlessly chatting for another minute or two before we hugged again.  After we pulled apart this time, he gave me one last look and left me at 47th & Lexington to head to work.  Yet another spell had been broken.  Back to the real world at last.

When will you realize...Vienna waits for you?

When will you realize…Vienna waits for you?

I can only hope I have more Before Sunrise-esque nights in my life, nights spent trying to solve all the problems of the universe and having silly adventures.  Nights without plans where the present is all that matters.  Nights where I connect so deeply with a person that parting with them is agony.  Isn’t this what we all wish for in life?  Isn’t this what truly LIVING feels like?

“Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?” – Celine

Perhaps you’re right, Celine.