This weekend, we re-watched one of my favourite movies of the past year, Boyhood.
In case you haven’t heard of it, Boyhood is a coming-of-age story with a difference – filmed over 12 years, it follows the same cast through the boyhood of the film’s central character, Mason.
We follow Mason from being a six-year-old being raised by a single Mum, through his schooldays, to leaving for college. It’s perfect, it really is. One of those films that stays with you for days, weeks after you watch it; Boyhood is beautiful and nostalgic and epic all at once.
Of course, every story about boyhood is also about parenting – and I think it’s hard to watch this sort of movie without feeling wistful. Here are 5 things that Boyhood made me remember about being a parent:
Life moves fast.
There’s something pretty powerful in watching a boy grow up in a smidge under three hours. There are no big title sequences or obvious cuts between Mason at six, and seven, or twelve. It all just merges and before you know it – boom – he’s grown up. It’s a reminder of just how fast childhood passes by, and how children are changing with every single moment.
Life’s not about big moments. It’s the moments in between.
It’s true – nothing much happens in this movie. It’s meandering and doesn’t tell you any big dramatic story or lesson – because life’s not like that. Boyhood goes out of its way to avoid so-called Big Moments – we don’t see weddings or funerals or first days at school. We don’t see explosive rows or terrible disasters.
What the film does is quietly show the moments between the Big Moments: small gestures, brief conversations: playing ball in the park, family dinners, walking home from school, fighting in the back seat of the car. These are the moments that make us who we are, and the ones we’ll remember years later.
Lately, I’ve wondered a lot about why I blog. What I have left to say. How my blog compares to others. I guess what I remembered after watching this film is that I don’t have to say BIG things, because little moments are what make our life what it is, and that’s what I want to look back on in my old age.
This really is it. And that’s okay.
There’s a scene towards the end of Boyhood where Patricia Arquette, as Mason’s mother, watches him get ready to leave for college. “You know what I realise? My life’s just going to go like that, a series of milestones,” she cries. “I just thought there would be… more.”
It’s a moment that I think really resonates with women – having thrown so much of our time, energy and identity into parenting, what’s left? What else is there?
It’s easy sometimes to think there should be more – it’s hard to resist those messages constantly telling us we need to be happy, confident, successful. Oh, and beautiful, sexy, smart and powerful, living in our perfectly styled homes with our perfectly devoted partners. I’m a sucker for this as much as the next person, and find myself occasionally confusing someone’s Instagram with their reality, and wondering where I’m going wrong.
There’s a great lyric in the song that provides the soundtrack to the movie that I think encapsulates it pretty perfectly: “Your masquerade… I don’t want to be a part of your parade.”
Boyhood reminds us, I think, that real parenting is often hard, and banal – but that’s there’s poetry and beauty in that. You don’t need to spend life wishing for more, or better, because the notion that wealth or things can bring you happiness is an illusion we don’t have to buy into. Because so long as you have enough, life is pretty magical just as it is – if you can only remember to stop and throw your whole heart into those fleeting, everyday moments.
Growing up isn’t just for kids.
At the start of the movie, Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke play pretty rubbish parents. She’s a young, single Mum struggling to manage in a tiny house. He’s a feckless pot-head who ran off to Alaska and didn’t see his kids for 18 months.
Over the course of the film we see them find their feet, make new relationships, learn new skills, and get to know themselves better. I loved the reminder that you don’t have to know it all, right away, to be a good parent. Growing up alongside your kids teaches them important lessons, too. Sometimes just the fact of showing up every day, being there to listen to your children, and loving them is nothing short of heroic. Making mistakes is just part of the journey.
Family’s what you make it
Over the 12 years the movie covers, each of Mason’s parents forms new relationships, several times over. There are step-parents, step brothers and sisters, new grandparents, family friends. What I love about the film is it doesn’t make easy judgments – Boyhood simply lets us observe, through Mason, the way that his family changes and flexes over time, introducing new people who shape his life and personality in different ways.
Being a single parent can sometimes feel like you’ve made a compromise you can never make up for – but Boyhood reminds me that family isn’t just about kids and parents. That having people around your child who love them and support them and help to raise them alongside you is what family is all about – and there’s no single version of what that needs to look like.
If you haven’t yet seen the movie, then the trailer below might inspire you to download it next weekend. If you have seen it, I’d love to know what you thought – did you love it, or hate it?