Emerging from the theater after watching Boyhood, I was in a daze.
The nearly three hour journey was both mundane and inspiring. Watching the cast age over a 12 year period was interesting, but what’s really affecting are the vignettes of the uniquely human struggle that we’re all engaged in. A few dozen people and myself watched as a boy became a man, each of us smiling as we recognized events from our recent history and remembering what we were doing at that time.
In one scene, a young Mason is forced to get his hair cut and when he shows up the next day at school the other children giggle at his dramatically different look. I was instantly a child again, with a knot in my stomach, and I just wanted to put my head down on a desk and go to sleep. Mason handled himself better than I would have; he simply carries on with his day.
I don’t recall much of my own life before the age of 11. Whenever I meet someone who can I’m fascinated and I wonder if the memories are real or simply a retelling of a story they’ve been told by a parent or friend. I probably just don’t like the idea that my memory could be so inferior, and sometimes I feel as though part of my life has been lost to time.
As the film progresses we watch Mason grow into adulthood, or at least the legal definition of it. By 18 he’s no more ready for independence than most people of that age and he’s constantly reminded of that by the adults in his life. Like so many of us he moves along life’s fixed rails not because they lead to a future he desires, but because they are the only option given him. He must get a job, accept additional responsibilities, and go to college.
Life happens to us – we don’t happen to it. We try to capture it, to hold on to it, with memories and pictures and social media updates. We want to leave something behind so that others will know that we were here; we made a difference. We mattered. But trying to hold on to life is impossible. As Alan Watts once said, “Indeed, you cannot grasp it, just as you cannot walk off with a river in a bucket. If you try to capture running water in a bucket, it is clear that you do not understand it and you will always be disappointed, for in the bucket the water does not run.”