For parts one and two, click here
When our protagonist, Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) is about nine or 10 years old, he and his sister spend a fun-filled weekend with their dad, Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke). Late at night in the latter’s apartment, Mason Jr. asks, with a wistful note in his voice, if it is true that there are no magical beings — like elves — in the world.
At first, dad ducks the question with a question of his own — namely, why elves should be considered more wondrous than, for instance, whales. He asks Mason Jr. what he would say if he told him there was a sea creature so big that you could literally walk through its arteries.
“But…right this second,” Mason Jr. asks, “there are no elves in the world?”
Here’s where dad has to be straight-up.
“Technically, no,” he answers. “No elves.”
Mason Jr. is at the age where children typically stop believing in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, etc. In other words, this is when the natural wonder of childhood begins to fade, making way for the jaded “realism” of adulthood.
But it was not always that way. While throughout human history there was always a distinction between childhood and adulthood based on growth, experience, etc., there was not in ancient or medieval societies the very sharp differentiation we see today. Mankind’s natural openness to wonder did change from childhood to adulthood, but it was always maintained and amplified in one way or another, and found expression through various cultures, traditions, lore, religions, etc.
notes a sudden realization that her life has been a mere series of benchmarks (…) …a series of incidents, with nothing to connect them all.
“I guess I just thought there would be more,” she observes.
What we are lacking, as a culture, is a comprehensive worldview, or horizon of meaning — a meta-narrative, as it were. Whereas the Christian meta-narrative is what has defined Western for most of the past 2,000 years, the last several centuries have seen it become progressively more dominated by the meta-narratives of scientism and, derivatively, materialism.
According to the broadly defined mode of thought to which both meta-narratives belong, history is mankind’s long struggle against the “primitive,” “childish” darkness of religion (which proponents of this general worldview equate in all instances with superstition), culminating in its final emergence and self-assertion through science, technology, quantifiable knowledge, the conquest of nature, and even just general human ingenuity.
Please bear in mind that I am not trying to belittle science, technology, personal ambition (rightly ordered), or the achievements of modern man. Far from it. But the problem is when these come to define our world and our values.
When this happens, we close ourselves off to any notion of the transcendent and insulate ourselves against a teleological vision of a world charged with meaning and purpose.
Proponents of materialism and scientism will typically respond to this objection by pointing to the inexhaustible wonder of the world as present to us, much as Mason Sr. responds to his son’s question by pointing to the wonder of whales.
But in our hearts, we find that we must side with Mason Jr. on this one. As wondrous as the world we can see and measure is, it is not enough.
Our exploration of “Boyhood” has led us down an interesting rabbit hole, for sure. We’ll see, in part four, where it finally leads us.
Images obtained through a Google image search