Richard Linklater’s BOYHOOD is an epic movie, on length alone. With a story line covering one boy’s entire formative years, from 1st grade to his arrival at college, the timeline and theme are just as epic. The film is absolutely breathtaking, a triumph and truly there is no superlative large enough that cannot be heaped upon what I believe to be Linklater’s finest achievement. Just the undertaking alone, filming three days a year, every year, for twelve years with the same group of actors, is epic. But what many people have not really noticed, or at least have not been as focused, is that it is an epic view of our most epic state, Linklater’s own Texas.

BOYHOOD follows Mason Jr., who opens the film in 1stgrade, staring up into the big blue of the Texas sky. He’s a true Texan from the start, ready for adventure (his mother reads him Harry Potter books and he has pirate ships painted on his walls). His teacher says Mason Jr. is always staring out the window – clearly, he’s trying to find his place in this big world, but he knows its not trapped inside the walls of the school. He’s searching for meaning in the natural world, coming up with a very bizarre explanation of where wasps come from. When I spoke with Richard Linklater at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, where the film made its Texas Premiere, we discussed Texas’s place inhis own Boyhood. “Texas is so big, I felt I had been all over, you know five hour drives, if you’re in the north east you just went through three or for states,” he said, “but I realized I was 20 and I had never left Texas but I felt I had been everywhere.” In fact, we never even learn where Mason Jr. starts out his journey, it’s just some anonymous Texas town where he tags his first cement wall with graffiti with a friend. I like to think of it as Abilene or Lubbock. I don’t know, but it has that vibe.

Anyway, Mason Jr. is pulled to Houston by his mother, who is going back to school (as a U of Houston cougar) to help the family achieve a higher degree of independence, and to be closer to her mother. Mason Jr experiences the first of many slash and burn exits, painting over the lines on his doorway measuring his height, leaving toys behind, and never getting to say goodbye to his little hoodlum friend. Once again, MJ (as his father often calls him) is not much interested in work, preferring to play a video game about a being a pioneer, rather than cut out a silhouette of Texas for a mobile. There is also a sequence where they say the Texas Pledge – is there any other state that does that? Texas politics begin to intrude on his life, as his teacher instructs the class that the Iraq War is “a good war because it’s better to be safe than sorry,” and his Dad (Ethan Hawke), now back in his life, says the only good vote in the next election is “anybody but Bush.” MJ gets to experience a lot of Houston, mostly with his Dad who takes him to an Astros game, and to the science museum and outdoor public art. He’s still got his mind on adventure though, showing his dad his rock collection, including one from Dripping Springs. Dad reminds him how they used to taking camping trips out at Big Bend, but MJ has no memory of this. One of the best ‘Texas’ moments of the film, especially in historical retrospect, is at the Astros game where Dad and kids watch Roger Clemens pitch. “What we are watching is history,” Ethan Hawke’s character says, “43 years old striking out guys half his age.” It seems almost too perfect now that after the game he asks his Dad, “there’s no real magic in the world is there?”

The family’s circumstances rise as his mother (Patricia Arquette) marries a professor from her university, and they move into the classic Houston McMansion. But it is in this house where it is hammered into him that as a boy, he has no control over his own life. For me, one of the most powerful moments of the film is when his ‘new father’ takes him to the barber and forces him to cut his long wild hair. He’s a small kid in a big city, powerless. When his Mother decides it’s time to move on, she takes both of the kids, and put them in a car and tells them “Don’t look back.” MJ’s question, “where are we going” has no answer, and even if it did, it would be out of his control. Linklater felt like every year he ended up having to shoot in a car, but this seemed appropriate: “as a kid you are always being transported from a to b,” he said “eventually you’re driving.” But there is never a sense that they could escape the Lone Star State. “I kind of had this notion of just sorta being trapped inside the border of Texas,” Linklater told me, “just like you’re trapped for 12 years inside your parent’s house.” I even noticed in one scene, the outline of Texas is carved into the wall of a bowling alley as the kids discuss their upcoming weekend with their Dad. MJ and Dad then partake in my favorite Texas pastime, a roadtrip to a state park, all the while talking music. MJ’s mind is still on distant worlds, discussing the Star Wars films (and hilariously saying they could never make another one).

The next stop in the journey is San Marcos, where Mom gets a teaching job at (I’m assuming) Texas State. MJ’s lack of control is driven in by his sister not picking him up from school, forcing him to walk home. He tells a friend his impression of the town; “it’s a lot smaller than Houston but its cool.” She tells him that if you wnt a big city, you have to go to San Antonio or Austin, where most of the kids go to see shows. Thus begins the family’s pull to Austin, and all its (somewhat Richard Linklater created) coolness. Around this time, Texas starts really becoming the Texas I know right now. Mom and her new Iraqi vet husband buy a house off forclosure, Dad sells his GTO to “some sucker from California,” MJ goes out to a ranch for his birthday where his new grandparents (dad’s remarried) give him a bible and a shotgun. But Mason Jr’s been searching for something all his life and he seems at ease out her in nature. He takes photographs and tells a teacher “I just want to be able to do anything I want.” If that’s not the definitive statement of being a Texan, I don’t know what is. He even starts driving a beat-up old truck. Nearing the end of high school, he and a girlfriend visit UT, see a show at the Continental Club, and spend hours in Kerby Lane eating queso and overhearing a crazy person profess his conspiracy theories to an empty booth. He’s not sure this is for him, college is just one more “pre-ordained slot.”

When Mason finally does escape, he ends up on the other side of the state, at some college (possibly UTEP or Sul Ross) driving distance from Big Bend National Park. “He wanted to get as far away from home as possible,” Linklater said, “it’s a long, long way – you’re halfway to LA at that point, but you’re still in Texas.” As he climbs over rocks and stares at the alien landscape with a new friend who is howling with pure joy at the sight, Mason has reached his last stop of Boyhood. Strangely, it is in a place his Dad told him they had gone camping as a child. And… it’s with a random girl from college who just may be the same girl who flirted with him after his hair got buzzed – I have to believe this is Linklater’s little treat for those paying attention. Nicole. It has to be her. Mason ends up in much the same place he began, staring at the big blue of the Texas sky and trying to understand his world. People go in and out of his life, but Texas always remains. According to Linklater, “Texas you get these different worlds. West Texas is so different than East Texas. A city like Houston is what, the fourth largest city in the country, so a huge variety to where I moved and where I grew up but you’re still kinda trapped.”

BOYHOOD is an amazing movie. I’ve seen it three times now (Sundance/SXSW/and a press screening) and when it opens to the public, I’m taking my wife, a born and raised Texan. I can’t imagine Richard Linklater making a better film in his career, and this is a film that’s pure epicness needs to be experienced in a darkened movie theatre with an audience, and, if you are so lucky, and audience of Texans.

BOYHOOD opens in Austin on July 18th at the Violet Crown, The Arbor, and the Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane, as well as in Plano, Houston and in states outside Linklater Land. Lead actor Ellar Coltrane will be at the Violet Crown screenings for Q&As after the 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30 pm Friday night shows.

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