Cinema makes magic out of time. It’s only the lag between eyes and brain that makes a succession of still image frames appear to move in a lifelike way. And as an artform, cinema has always toyed with how much or how little to mimic life. At one end of the spectrum, documentaries claim to depict the world as it ‘really is’; at the other, special effects-driven fantasies transcend the everyday.
Richard Linklater’s new drama Boyhood is a magical viewing experience. Like the best stage illusions, it’s masterfully performed and designed to fill its audiences with awe and delight. Because it was filmed gradually, over a period of twelve years, Boyhood authentically represents the passage of time in a way other films can only simulate. We see children grow up before our eyes as their parents age; yet it happens gradually enough to seem completely seamless.
We know exactly how it was done: Linklater and his core cast filmed in four-day stints roughly once a year from 2002 to 2013, writing the story as they went along. But the real magic—the prestige—is that Boyhood’s immersive vision of everyday life doesn’t merely capture a zeitgeist; it also provokes audiences to consider their own personal histories. In this solipsistic way—rather than through such technological trickery as 3D or Smell-O-Vision—Boyhood brings cinema tantalisingly close to lived experience.