Saturday, July 26, 2014
By Mark Alpert
I made good progress on my novel this week, but I have no interest in writing a post about writing now. It’s summertime and I want to talk about the movies. This week I saw two movies that couldn’t be more different: Boyhood, the Richard Linklater film that everyone’s talking about, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Well, now that I think about it, there are some similarities between the two films. They’re both about family, right?
Actually, the latest Planet of the Apes installment was a great disappointment. It was too dark, not thematically but visually -- almost all the scenes in the movie take place at night or in a gloomy forest. (And I think all those 3D movies are inherently dark because the glasses block a high percentage of the light from the screen.) After stumbling out of the theater I wistfully recalled the bright colors and memorable lines from the very first Planet of the Apes, the one with Charlton Heston and Dr. Zaius. “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” “You maniacs! You blew it up! Goddamn you all to hell!”
But I can wholeheartedly recommend Boyhood. It was filmed over twelve years and it follows the travails of an ordinary family, but it’s a scripted movie, not a documentary. Linklater found two child actors (one of them is his own daughter) who were willing to shoot a few scenes every year. In the opening scenes the boy is six and the girl is eight; by the end of the movie they’re both in college. Their mom and dad are played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, and they undergo an equally familiar transition. At the start of the movie they’re good-looking but hapless parents; by the end, they’ve both gained a measure of wisdom and responsibility, but neither one is very attractive anymore.
It’s a long movie, almost three hours, and I admit I was a little bored at times. The story of this family has a few dramatic moments -- notably (spoiler alert!) after the mom enters into a second marriage with an older man who turns out to be a violent drunk -- but most of the film shows the commonplace milestones of growing up, such as birthdays and camping trips and high-school football games. When the boy hero Mason Jr. goes to a new middle school he gets bullied a little, and when he’s a bit older he drinks beer with some other teenagers, but nothing momentous happens in either scene. The bullies never really hurt Mason, and there are no negative consequences to the drinking incident. These scenes aren’t part of a big plot puzzle, they’re just interesting episodes from a typical adolescence. But the scenes stick with you afterwards, because they remind you of similar episodes from your own past.
I found this approach very refreshing. In my novels I spend so much time constructing the plot and making sure that every scene advances the story. But in Boyhood the story is life itself, so it’s okay to have lots of loose ends.