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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Boyhood

By
Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service


Ellar Coltrane stars in a scene from the movie "Boyhood."
To describe "Boyhood" (IFC) as unique is to underestimate a film that was shot in 39 days over the course of 12 years.

For this reason alone, "Boyhood" offers an unprecedented cinematic experience. In this green-screen era of computer-generated effects, it's refreshing, even astonishing, to watch characters age naturally -- if not gracefully -- on the big screen.

Writer-director Richard Linklater ("Before Midnight") sets out to chart "the rocky terrain of childhood" as no one has done before. As such, "Boyhood" has a documentary feel, and brings to mind Michael Apted's "Up" series, which checks in with the same participants every seven years.

But "Boyhood" is a work of fiction, and its tone of moral indifference ultimately will not resonate well with viewers of faith -- or with those who cherish the loving bonds of family.

At its heart is Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane). We meet him as a perfectly ordinary 6-year-old boy in suburban Texas, and then follow his life to age 18 and his departure for college.

Along for the ride are his spunky sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director's daughter), and his divorced mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette). The lad's father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), is an occasional presence.

Olivia is restless and insecure. She wants more out of life than being a mother, and uproots her family multiple times as she searches for a career and a new husband.

Mason Sr., on the other hand, is footloose and fancy free. He indulges his children whenever he sees them (which is not often), dispensing dime-store advice.

When Mason Jr. throws gutter balls at the bowling alley, upset that there are no bumpers in his lane, Dad tells him to grow up. "You don't need bumpers. Life doesn't give you bumpers."

Divorce looms large in this movie, as children are forced to deal with their parents' inadequacies and their opposing methods of parenting, a situation made all the more challenging when Mom remarries (twice), and Dad finds another wife.

In the end, the children essentially raise themselves, and decide on their own what is right and wrong.

This is where "Boyhood" falls short. The film is critical of Olivia's poor taste in men (both of her new spouses are abusive alcoholics) as well as Mason Sr.'s narcissism. But when it comes to the bratty kids, judgment is suspended.

Mason Jr.'s journey is presented to the audience as perfectly natural, even normal. We watch him drink beer in middle school, and smoke pot and have sex in high school.

He is lazy, indifferent and rude, marching to his own drummer despite the protestations of his mother and teachers. In the end, he is an admired figure, possessing a "wisdom" that seems beyond his years.

While many viewers may identify with Mason Jr.'s experience, that does not make his actions morally acceptable.

Not surprisingly, "Boyhood" has no time for religion, even when Mason Sr. marries a sweet lady from the Bible Belt who manages to reform his freewheeling ways. Her gun-toting parents give Mason Jr. a Bible for his birthday, played as a cringe-worthy moment.

Samantha laments, "You're not becoming one of those God people, are you Dad?"

Heaven forbid.

The film contains a benign attitude toward drug and underage alcohol use, teenage sex, and contraception, an ambivalent portrayal of religion, occasional profanity and frequent crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

*****
Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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Maria Goretti: One of the largest crowds ever assembled for a canonization—250,000—symbolized the reaction of millions touched by the simple story of Maria Goretti. 
<p>She was the daughter of a poor Italian tenant farmer, had no chance to go to school, never learned to read or write. When she made her First Communion not long before her death at age 12, she was one of the larger and somewhat backward members of the class. </p><p>On a hot afternoon in July, Maria was sitting at the top of the stairs of her house, mending a shirt. She was not quite 12 years old, but physically mature. A cart stopped outside, and a neighbor, Alessandro, 18 years old, ran up the stairs. He seized her and pulled her into a bedroom. She struggled and tried to call for help. “No, God does not wish it," she cried out. "It is a sin. You would go to hell for it.” Alessandro began striking at her blindly with a long dagger. </p><p>She was taken to a hospital. Her last hours were marked by the usual simple compassion of the good—concern about where her mother would sleep, forgiveness of her murderer (she had been in fear of him, but did not say anything lest she cause trouble to his family) and her devout welcoming of Viaticum, her last Holy Communion. She died about 24 hours after the attack. </p><p>Her murderer was sentenced to 30 years in prison. For a long time he was unrepentant and surly. One night he had a dream or vision of Maria, gathering flowers and offering them to him. His life changed. When he was released after 27 years, his first act was to go to beg the forgiveness of Maria’s mother. </p><p>Devotion to the young martyr grew, miracles were worked, and in less than half a century she was canonized. At her beatification in 1947, her mother (then 82), two sisters and a brother appeared with Pope Pius XII on the balcony of St. Peter’s. Three years later, at her canonization, a 66-year-old Alessandro Serenelli knelt among the quarter-million people and cried tears of joy.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, may the medals we wear be constant reminders of the lives they depict. While wearing them, may we be blessed through the saints’ intercession and protected from harm. Help us to continue to spread the messages of Jesus and Mary and the saints and angels.

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