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Parenting through the years: Boyhood

Written by Film

Boyhood is easily one of my favourite films, and an aspect that really stuck with me was the father-son relationship.

Ethan Hawke’s character begins the film as a deadbeat, too young to be a dad, and not remotely interested in being part of his kids’ lives. A typical, D-grade, absent father, who ran away to Alaska as soon as things got hard.

However, Mason Sr. and Mason Jr. grow side by side as the film progresses, with Mason’s father becoming a real adult. The method through which this is done is masterful. You don’t notice him maturing, until all the things which he manages so poorly at the start of the film become positive things. His strong political opinions, which is such an inappropriate thing to discuss with a six-year old, develops into him spending time with his kids while campaigning.

This film depicts parents as people, rather than either angelic or demonic figures.

Jimmy, who lives with Mason Sr. in a flat which his kids could never realistically spend time in, reappears as a now famous singer, whose concert Mason attends with his dad. Mason Sr. goes through the rigmarole of normal mellowing, as he quits smoking, and sells his classic GTO sports car in favour of a people carrier. Before we know it, Mason Sr. is the perfect dad. He even admits it to Mason, saying that he is now the person that Mason’s mother needed a decade before.

The portrayal of dads in films are really interesting, and as a man, somewhat insulting: fathers seem to be either dead (and glorified), or abusive drunks. That is, if they’re present at all. This film depicts parents as people, rather than either angelic or demonic figures. Neither of these reflect the humanity of parents, the way they change, or personal growth, or duality. They fail to invoke normal, everyday empathy or understanding. But in Boyhood, we get a break from simple, vacuous parental figures, for a normal person.

Boyhood also reflects something I think we’re all familiar with; watching our parents change, age, slow down, get things wrong, in some cases find new partners and get it wrong all over again. In Boyhood, the regular facets of humanity are all there, in all their wonderful flaws.

Mason Sr. ultimately gets it right, he changes to become the person his kids need. He gives up his lifestyle, his youth and vitality, even his beautiful Pontiac GTO. The wild-eyed man becomes an Insurance Agent, with a horrible people carrier.

So, raise a socially distanced glass to your dad this Father’s Day. He is, like you, a normal person after all, and gave up his youth for you. Mind you, he probably never gave up anything as important as 1968 Pontiac.

Last modified: 19th June 2020

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