- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2014

“Boyhood” only opened in theaters today, but it’s already made history.

Starring Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and two unknown youngsters, it’s the first film to capture over a decade the life of its characters using the same actors throughout.

Writer-director Richard Linklater shot the movie over 12 years, showing the fictional and the actual transformation of a boy into a man. It’s an audacious project, but in thinking about it for a few minutes, a question inevitably rises: Why hasn’t anyone done this before?

“I know. It’s so simple. But at the end of this whole journey, I can tell you exactly why no one has done it,” Mr. Linklater says, laughing, on a recent visit to Washington to talk about the film. “It’s crazy. It’s so impractical. It fits in no world of commerce I think the so-called risks involved — and the unknowns — overwhelm the coolness of the idea.”

If anyone was going to take on such an unwieldy project, it was going to be Richard Linklater.

“I’d spent my whole cinematic life, probably thinking in this area about narrative and time and structure and plot,” he says. “And so I think I was allowed to have this very simple idea.”

The Texas native, a self-taught filmmaker, burst onto the scene as one of the independent innovators of the 1990s. His first two films, 1991’s “Slacker” and 1993’s “Dazed and Confused,” took place in a single day.

His third film did, too, but 1995’s “Before Sunrise” is in a category of its own. Mr. Linklater was inspired by French film but has practically invented a new genre, continuing the relationship between a man and a woman (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) who meet on a train in Europe in 2004’s “Before Sunset” and 2013’s “Before Midnight.”

It was his personal, not professional, life that really inspired new his film, though.

“I’d been a parent for about six years, thinking about making a film about childhood and being a parent. My storytelling instinct was going in this direction. I think having a kid, you have to think about childhood. You have to think about the psyche of that age. You can’t help going through your own childhood,” he says.

But his ideas were “all over the map so I’d kind of given up on the idea.”

A novelist, he thought, wouldn’t have trouble doing what he wanted to do, which was to capture the “gradual progression through childhood.” A filmmaker could cast a younger and an older actor who share physical similarities, but there would always be a big gap in the story.

He thought about it for a couple years when “Boyhood” just came to him.

“The whole movie appeared in a flash, tonally, everything,” the writer-director says.

He would film a few weeks every year for 12 years, showing a single boy from first grade to high school graduation.

The lightning flash didn’t calm his nerves entirely: “I know film history pretty well and I’d never seen it or heard of it.”

Someone in London told him the late Stanley Kubrick wanted to do something similar, filming the life of Napoleon in stages over years, with Al Pacino playing the doomed emperor.

“I think, what would keep a Kubrick or any filmmaker out of this, and for good reason, is we’re all really control freaks,” Mr. Linklater says.

A project spanning more than a decade, however, “demands that you give up that kind of control. You have to embrace a certain random, unknowable future, like we all do in our lives naturally,” he adds.

He decided to see the uncharted territory less as a hazard, more like a fun adventure: “Who are these kids going to grow up to be? What’s going to happen in the world that will be worthy of including?”

His young star, Ellar Coltrane, has very few films to his name. At one point during the process, the director felt he had to lower the actor’s expectations.

“About four years ago, I said, ‘Ellar, don’t get your hopes up for this movie. I mean, no one’s ever going to see it,’” Mr. Linklater recalls. “Because you can’t sum it up in a second. You’ve got to wrap your head around it, and it’ll sound vague, and no one will be interested.”

That’s really what the director thought. He seems genuinely surprised that “Boyhood” has become one of the year’s most anticipated movies, with audiences clamoring to see something on screen they’ve never seen before.

“Now that this little door has been opened, maybe others will start experimenting with it in various ways,” Mr. Linklater muses.

He finds it “fun to think cinema in its 119th year or whatever” can still offer the world something new.

But then, he adds, “I’ve always viewed cinematic storytelling as the Wild West.”

He has no plans to revisit the boy now that he’s become a man. But he knows himself too well to declare he’s done.

“As the ‘Before’ series of films taught me, though, you never know what might pop up needing to be alive in you again years later,” Mr. Linklater says.

One thing’s certain: He’ll continue to explore the idea of identity, the question of whether we remain the same people as we age, the concept of change.

“It’s the eternal mystery that I’m intrigued by,” he says.

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