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Posts Tagged ‘Ethan Hawke’

Boyhood_ImageFor 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.

Patricia_Arquette_Boyhood2On the other side of this particular cultural phenomenon of our own, we have Olivia Evans (Patricia Arquette) — who, as I noted in part two,

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 culture 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

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For part one, click here

Patricia_Arquette_BoyhoodFamily life is a mixed bag in “Boyhood.”  An abler commentator could probably offer much deeper psychological, sociological, or spiritual insights; I will limit myself to a few thoughts, which can be divided (with utmost creativity) into these categories: Positive and Negative.

Positives

Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) and his sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), have the benefit of growing up with loving parents.  They have their responsible and nurturing mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), and their fun-loving and vibrantly affectionate dad, Mason, Sr. (Ethan Hawke).  Indeed, the importance of family is underscored all throughout the film.

In fact, at one point, Mason — now age 14 — sits in on one of Olivia’s lectures as a psychology instructor.  She is lecturing on John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory, which highlights the vital role of emotional and physical closeness between parents and their children not only for the children’s well-being, but for the survival of the human race.

Without that tight familial bond, Olivia rightly observes, “we’re doomed.”

boyhood_graduation

No doubt, the somewhat strained but very real family bond with which Mason grows up contributes to his becoming the young man we eventually meet — kind, open to people, able and willing to learn from his mistakes, and focused on his future.

Negatives

The major “downfall” of Mason, Sr. and Olivia can be easily identified: They had children too young.  And, evidently, they did so without discerning whether or not they were actually meant to be together.  It is not clear whether they had ever gotten married (if I remember correctly); but in any case, they are no longer together, and Mason lives at a great enough distance that he can only see his children every so often.

When Samantha is eight and Mason, Jr. is six or seven, Olivia decides she wants to improve her life and the lives of her children by going back to college.  A laudable choice, but also the beginning of a process that requires the family relocate frequently.  To make things more difficult, mom remarries at least twice — in both instances to men with a penchant for alcohol, and in one instance into a physically and psychologically abusive relationship.

Like I said, we have a pretty mixed bag — and one that seems to reflect the general, overall state of the family in today’s society.

Patricia_Arquette_Boyhood2

Additionally, as kindhearted and as devoted as both parents are, they have no truly profound or comprehensive worldview to offer their children.  This is not unusual nowadays, and by no means am I suggesting that it leads in every case to family breakdown and dysfunction; however, I am convinced that the condition of this particular family would not have come about without this particular deficit.

A  key point — as far as I’m concerned — comes near the end of the film, when Mason, Jr. finds his mother crying at the kitchen table.  Olivia notes a sudden realization that her life has been a mere series of benchmarks.  She has kids.  She gets married.  She gets divorced.  She gets married again.  She graduates college.  She finally gets the job she wants.  Her kids graduate high school…

…a series of incidents, with nothing to connect them all.

“I guess I just thought there would be more,” she observes.

Sound familiar?  It would seem that the aforementioned confusion about life is inter-generational and, in a sense, hereditary.

Having identified the existential angst of both generations, I will explore two particular aspects of it in depth in the next two posts.

Images obtained through a Google image search

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