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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Linklater’

Boyhood_film

For parts one through four, click here

Here it is at last.  Sorry it took so long, but I really wanted to post the reflections on my monastic retreat before concluding the “Boyhood” commentary.  In some ways it is fitting, since these reflections bear on what I want to say here.

boyhood_girlfriendRichard Linklater’s “Boyhood” ends on a hopeful, joyful note.  Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) is settling in as a college freshman, and he meets a young lady named Nicole (Jessi Mechler) — who, presumably, is to become his girlfriend.

While the two of them are sitting under the desert sky in the evening, Nicole makes this comment:

You know how people are always telling you to seize the moment?  I think it’s more that the moment seizes you.

This is a very good insight — and, I think, not unrelated to the point made at the end of part four.  The human heart is made for God; therefore, in St. Augustine of Hippo’s immortal words, they are without rest until they find their rest in Him.

I’m not suggesting that this was necessarily what Nicole had in mind.  But, like many things in our experience, it is at least “getting at” a fundamental principle of reality.  Being sinners, we human beings have the tendency to “seize,” or “grasp.”  We are very possessive of what we have, and this includes ideas and aspirations as well as things.

Quite probably, this is, in part, why it is so much easier for us to turn to created things than to God.  Created things — even persons, to some extent — can be grasped, whether literally or metaphorically.  God cannot.  God’s nature is such that He can never be “had;” He can only be the “have-er.”

Peace and joy are not found in self-assertion or in grasping; rather, they are found in abandonment to God and His loving providence (there is a wonderful book by an eighteenth-century Jesuit priest on that subject, if you’re interested).

boyhood_graduationLet’s agree on something: Mason’s mom, Olivia (Patricia Arquette) is absolutely right to value family, career, milestones, etc.  But these are not the end-all and be-all.  If we think they are, then we are imposing too heavy a burden upon them.  We are fostering expectations that they were never meant to meet.  And in the long run, this is no better for the health and integrity of these areas of life than valuing them too little (this is especially true, I would say, of family life).

I think part of the angst that both Olivia and Mason exhibit in the face of life’s questions stems from a sense of guilt — especially in Olivia’s case.  If the things she thought would make her happy turned out not to do so, then supposedly this means she failed.  Here we have another fatal error of the sinful, “grasping” ego: The idea that we are in charge of our lives and world.

Batoni_sacred_heart

The idea of surrendering our lives to Christ sounds like slavery, in the worst sense of the word, to our modern ears.  But Jesus Christ, in truth, takes nothing away from us (except sin, of course).  Rather, He has personally taken responsibility for our happiness, so that that burden need not rest on us (and I’m not just talking about mankind in general, but each person individually…including everyone reading this post right now).  Our duty is merely to love Him — and in Him, our fellow human beings — and seek His will for our lives.

Only when individuals and families learn to rest in the One who made us, subjecting all other things (including the family) to Him as the Center of our lives, will our lives, our homes, and our societies find peace.  Forgive me if my words seem harsh, but perhaps then our culture will be able to outgrow the prolonged adolescence — “boyhood,” if you will — in which it has lingered for some time.

First and last images from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

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First of all, my apologies to anyone who may have gotten a notification that I had published a post a couple of days ago.  I was testing to something out, and had meant to save my “blank post” as a draft rather than publish it.  Needless to say, it didn’t work.  Mea culpa.

Anyway…

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For parts one through three, click here

We begin with a quote-within-a-quote — in other words, with me referencing myself referencing a scene from Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood.”

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.

Interestingly, this way of experiencing life bears a small resemblance to animal consciousness.  This, in fact, is part of what differentiates humankind from the animal kingdom.  Animals have senses and instincts, and these facilitate all kinds of sensory/instinctual “experiences.”  But an animal does not have an “I” to tie it all together; in other words, it doesn’t have personhood…an immortal soul.

To experience one’s life as a mere progression of milestones or experiences is as close as a human being can get to living the life of an animal.  So we can see why it causes Olivia (Patricia Arquette) — and, by way of heredity, Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) such angst.  It is as if an animal — say, a kangaroo — were somehow forced to remain stationary, like a rock, tree, or other non-sentient creature; this would prevent it from doing what it is meant to do, and would therefore kill it.

So what is this “more” that we, as human beings, are wired for?

boyhood-ellar-coltrane-boyhood-inc-courtesy-of-sundance-institute1 We have a bit of a clue in Mason’s query about the existence of elves.  In addition to the many other traits that set us apart from the animals, we human beings have a peculiar tendency to look beyond ourselves.  This is very much ingrained in the way we were made:

It is not good for (. . .) man to be alone

-Genesis 2:18

Of course, this verse refers primarily to the marital aspect of man’s existence, and to how a man and a woman complete one another.  But since man is made for fellowship, he also seeks and desires friendship, partnership, filial bonds, etc.

But even these human bonds (wonderful and necessary as they are) are not enough.  We will probably never know whether elves or fairies ever existed (not on this side of life, anyway), but I think the fact that people of almost all times and places have believed in some variation of them speaks to us of each person’s desire for fellowship — or at least coexistence — not only between him/herself and other persons, but between the human race and other kinds of persons.

Beatific Vision

We do, by way of both revelation and reason, know that God created the angels — non-corporeal spirits who share with humankind the status of personhood, of the “I” — to watch over and guide us.  Seeking fellowship with them would seem sensible.  After all, if neither anything in this world nor even human companionship can ultimately satisfy us, wouldn’t it behoove us to look to creatures that are greater than ourselves?

But would even this be enough?  Marvelous and splendid as he might be, an angel is a creature, and therefore limited.  To limit oneself to a close friendship with one angel is to do so to the exclusion of countless others, each singular and unique.  And lest we think we can solve that conundrum by putting stock in a generalized relationship with all of the angels — even one that involves varying degrees and kinds of relationship, as exist among human beings — a closer look would reveal that this, too, gives us only a higher and more beautiful series of phenomena that, like the events of Olivia’s life, are unrooted in someone or something solid.

What we yearn for is nothing less than infinite beauty, unlimited goodness, eternal truth…God Himself.

I really thought I’d be able to make it in four posts, but it looks like I’ll have to add one more.  The next and final post will flesh out this last point in relation to the movie.

Movie stills obtained through a Google image search; image of angels from Wikipedia

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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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Boyhood_filmRichard Linklater’s latest film strikes me as a truly groundbreaking work of cinema.  Never before have we seen a film that traces the life of its protagonist from age six through age 18, using the same actor for each age.  Yet this is precisely what “Boyhood” does.

The protagonist in question is Mason Evans, Jr., brilliantly portrayed at every age level by Ellar Coltrane.  In Mason’s experiences and relationships, we can see a microcosm of what appears to be the experience of the youth of this culture and time in general…

…which is not to say that this is a “doom-and-gloom” type of movie.  It’s a good mix of happy and sad, thick and thin, light and dark.  It showcases the happy moments of family life and childhood without being overly sentimental, and it depicts the harder aspects of growing up in this day and age without being fatalistic or depressing.

Boyhood-03Within that context, we see a growing sense of confusion, uncertainty, and lost-ness in Mason as he gets closer to college age.  His passion for photography, demonstrated beautifully throughout the later part of the film, starts to wane as he searches — seemingly in vain — for deeper, more solid, more abiding meaning in his life.

Normally, this would probably not make for a hit movie.  Such a subject is more often confined to a limited-release indie film circulated among specialized audiences. 

But what makes “Boyhood” different is its seamless integration of the formative periods of the protagonist’s life using the same actor — rather than, for example, Ellar Coltrane playing Mason at age six, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick at age 10, Asa Butterfield at age 14, and Josh Hutcherson at age 18.  For this reason, we have a much clearer sense of Mason Evans, Jr. as a single person on a single journey.  So we can both see and better appreciate the context from which his personality and concerns have emerged.

I hate to end this post here…but I’m looking at the emerging structure of my reflections as a whole, and it appears I’ll have to.  Stay tuned!

Movie poster image from Wikipedia; movie still obtained through a Google image search

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