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Dr. Miriam Clarke
Contemporary American Literature: The Long Form
30 October, 2015
Boyhood and the Beauty of Triviality
I am beginning to discover that there are certain ideas about literature in my mind that I have
never given any thought to, but simply taken as read. These ideas stem from things that almost every
narrative I'd payed mind had simply included. As such, I learned to assume that all narrative simply
included this set of elements and that anything not including them must be some sort of experimental,
avant garde, art-house story. One such idea is the idea of uniqueness. I've believed for a long time that
if a story is to be worth telling, it must involve some sort of extraordinary circumstances, or at the very
least it must approach ordinary circumstances in an extraordinary way. For example, something like
Nabokov's Lolita has the potential to be a story worth telling because the circumstances of its premise
are extraordinary, as is Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine because it approaches an ordinary story (a
failing marriage) and an extraordinary way (in medias res/nonlinear storytelling that increases the
emotional effect on the audience).
As such, one can understand my reservation when going into Linklater's Boyhood. Boyhood is a
film that, by all accounts, revels in its ordinariness. Even the title itself, Boyhood, seems to indicate the
experience of the film as common, if not universal. I remember when Boyhood released, avoiding it for
this exact reason. “You must see Boyhood,” my friends would say. “It is the best movie of this year, and
the concept is so ambitious! It was filmed over twelve years, you know?”
To which, I would respond, “No. It seems both dull and pretentious. The idea of filming over
the course of twelve years is an absurd gimmick which cannot possibly have a substantial impact on the
narrative but only make the aging of the actors look a bit more realistic. It seems like the type of
concept someone would suggest after a long night of drinking. I will not see it.” As you might expect,
when I first saw Boyhood squatting humbly in the middle of our syllabus for the semester, I took off my
glasses, rubbed my temples with exasperation, and briefly considered dropping the class before
deciding to soldier on, and when it finally came time to watch the film, I girded my loins and prepared
for the viewing. I consoled myself with thoughts and rationalizations. At least I'll finally be able to tell
everyone who recommended it a year ago how wrong they are. Perhaps I can just mess about on my
phone and half pay attention to the movie.
However, as I began watching, I realized more and more throughout the film that I was actually
enjoying it. I thought of glancing at my phone and browsing the Internet, but I genuinely didn't want to.
I was captivated by what was going on onscreen. I found myself empathizing with what Mason felt and
rooting for him to do well. When the first stepfather became abusive, I cursed at the screen, and when
Mason's high school sweetheart broke his heart, I almost found myself uttering audible words of
consolation. So, the film might be better than I thought. That is not the unnerving part. The part that
caused me to change my view on something more general was the fact that it was not fundamentally
different from the way I expected it to be. It was every bit as common and uneventful as I expected it to
The question becomes, if literature is meant to have an extraordinary premise or else be told in
an extraordinary way, then why did Boyhood, a film that revels in the everyday and uses a traditional
method of storytelling (simple, linear narrative incorporating a few time skips), resonate with me so
very well? I do not know, honestly, but it has made me call this particular truth about literature that I
once held as sacrosanct into question. Perhaps, it is not impossible, only very difficult to make a
compelling narrative out of a relation of the ordinary in an ordinary way.