Boyhood, Girlhood

Growing up

I’ve just watched Boyhood, the celebrated film about a boy growing up.

I loved it.  The whole thing. Between memories of my own childhood, of my children and being a parent, of my family and people I’ve loved, it was a deeply emotional experience.

And the characters. If understanding their motivations is all you need to ‘become them’, I was there all the way.  I felt what they felt, I was there in the room… I aged with them.

We saw a family growing up, the stages of childhood and adolescence, the friendships that start and stop and start and stop, and the peculiar physical changes.  There were continuities – the familial love and the character of each person – amidst the constant change.

While I hate to bring such a transcendent experience down to the banality of the world of media issues will you indulge me?

Consider the words of the song in the video above:

Let me go, I don’t wanna be your hero

I don’t wanna be a big man

Just wanna fight with everyone else

Your masquerade

I don’t wanna be a part of your parade

Everyone deserves a chance to walk with everyone else

When you watch Mason, the main character, growing up – the film was filmed over 12 years – you realise how transient each stage is. He looks similar but different each time we see him.  He’s the same person, but his behaviour and situation changes.  The 12 years from age 6 to 18 are the most exciting, and the most painful of our lives.  You can’t watch Boyhood without remembering your own adolescence – the awkwardnesses, the obsessions and the half-forgotten stages we all go through as we find out who we are. Close friends, cherished haircuts and beloved clothes are outgrown but won’t be painted over easily, unlike height marks on a wall.

I thought about the way we imbue every opinion and behavioural shift from this ‘millennial’ generation with importance: if they watch a little less TV, or if they don’t do something we used to do, or they say Facebook or TV (or radio, or whatever) is over, then it must mean we should sell all our stock.

You could interpret the lyrics as a rejection of how adults behave (I don’t want to be a part of your parade).   Or, more likely, the words and the film may describe a young person resigning from a dead-end job they didn’t want and didn’t apply for.  What job?  The job of carrying the hopes of an entire industry of disruption-obsessed digital experts. Because while Mason is falling in love and discovering himself, he may not watch much TV, or read much news, or (.. what have you got?), but that doesn’t mean that he won’t change if and when he settles down.  He has a load to go through and his media behaviour is just one part of that.  Please please please fuck OFF while I work some things out, he might say..

He doesn’t want his current behaviour to define his whole life.

Yet an industry has risen up to do just that.

We see Mason’s mum marrying two awkward men along the way, but also meet her first husband, played by Ethan Hawke, Mason Jr’s father, Mason.  Broadcast TV is a little like Mason Sr. He’s entertaining, and provides a supportive and stimulating lead.. not demanding too much attention, but a benign force for continuity, cheerfully connecting the children with each other and the wider world as they grow.    He’s a curiously great character.

And I see the peculiarly demanding behaviour of Mason’s subsequent husbands as the problem.  They transmit their neediness to teenagers, demanding that they submit, and becoming stroppy when they resist.  Their insistence that the behaviour of the teenagers will become fixed and change everything, sounds familiar to anyone forced to read about millennials all the time.

Media fable or not, Boyhood is a wonderful, wonderful film for anyone who was once a teenager, or who cares about them.  Have you not seen it?  Rectify that.