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Thinking pop culture

Boyhood, Fatherhood and the Conduits of Culture

For the first couple of hours I was preoccupied by how long I’d been seated, that I really shouldn’t have drunk that whole bottle of water and that 165 minutes is at least 45 minutes too long for a plotless indulgence.

About 90% through however, a Family of the Year song played and I found myself crying a little.

Boyhood suddenly didn’t feel like such an sentence anymore.

Family of the Year - “Hero” (2013)

My brother’s proclamation that Boyhood might be the greatest film of all time was always going to be dubious: a) he cries wolf/“greatest” a lot and b) he received the lion’s share of our family’s exuberance genes.

But I was glad I saw it. More so, I was glad that I saw it so that I could gently guide others towards it.

I mentioned Graeme Simsion’s novel The Rosie Project in another article recently. That mention coincided with a text message from a friend. He’d finally cracked the spine of the copy I’d given him a year ago.

I’d bought him the book because while I’d liked it, it was entertainment rather than epiphany for me. From the outset however, it felt like a book for him; that it would fondle nerve endings in him that I don’t possess.

This, actually, is a fairly familiar experience for me; that while I might not be loving a book or a film, that I know someone who just might.

So The Rosie Project wasn’t particularly stirring, but I felt it might be for a friend. Ditto for Boyhood: that I know someone who likely - even if perhaps reluctantly - might reap the depth and richness that largely evaded me.

I’m on long-service leave and living in Albuquerque. Staying sometimes in my apartment at home is one of my nearest and dearest; a man who complains “colourfully” (read: constantly) about my couch / mattress / vacuum cleaner / toaster (or lackthereof) and that I live like such a peasant that I don’t even have a memory foam pillow.

It was a handful of minutes into Boyhood that I realised it’s a film he should see.

Undoubtedly there are “crisis of masculinity” pundits who embraced Boyhood as a magical insight into boys coming of age in a world where “being a man” is treacherous.

Equally, there are likely - and sadly - people who allowed themselves to be shocked by the film’s message that, hey, boys can be deep and sensitive too.

But personally I don’t fret over masculinity. I don’t assume men to be less sensitive than women. I don’t need Richard Linklater telling me that the kids are alright.

But Boyhood does have its merits. For me, the truly interesting character is not the star, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) - who the audience watches age, almost-remarkably, across twelve years - but rather, his (unnamed) father (Ethan Hawke).

While “maturing” seems like too loaded a word, the change over time in Mason’s father is the film’s nugget of gold.

I’ve actually spent near on seven years loving various versions of this man. Divorced fathers tussling with part-time fatherhood, desperately clutching onto coolness, losing coolness, feeling castrated, seeking solace in all the right and wrong places.

And this is why my whinging “tenant” should see it: yes, the kids really are alright but far more importantly, Dad likely will be too. Even if that “alright” is an outcome far different than ever envisioned as a teen.

Boyhood - trailer.

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