Damn. This movie. Even if it had no real artistic merit it would still be an amazing accomplishment just for the format/way it was made. Twelve years is such an endurance to commit to a project. I especially loved that they addressed the problem of people aging in a movie by just filming them aging. It added such a deep element outside of anything else constructed or scripted. It was amazing to watch the actors age in “real time” -not one of those sped up videos where someone takes a selfie a day, or looking at side by side photos of a president at the beginning and end of his term, or in the every day way we experience others-day to day changes on a microscopic level.
The film follows a family, focusing on the son (Mason) through many many years (twelve) and all the changes that happen during that time. I really respected how the storytelling was less expositional/narrative, but simply picked up in parts and let context clues tell the story for us. The focus wasn’t on making sure the audience saw exactly when something changed or necessarily how, only the aftereffects and how life settled in around these changes. There was also a very subtle escalation (over years) that revealed patterns in people, which is closer to how life is than most movies. For example, many of the men Mason’s mom (Patricia Arquette) dates after she and his father (Ethan Hawke) separate start out fine there are just tiny incidents that seem off, but then after time these problems heighten and become unbearable. For example, the first man she married after her divorce who seemed like a salt n’ pepper nicety (her college professor when she went back to school) for the first few years would occasionally sneak solo cups full of vodka and Sprite, but generally be a good father to them all, however in time he gradually became abusive and terrifying.
Speaking of the abuse, I liked how all of the life changes were given an objective equality- sometimes (most times) in movies, if a woman is in an abusive relationship that’s the ENTIRE movie, everything in her life after that point is related back to/colored by that in some way. In this movie, it’s horrifying certainly, but she also continues to have full experiences and goes on with life. Getting her degree, remarrying (and divorcing again), continuing to have professional and personal successes, etc. which isn’t how it’s usually portrayed. There’s an incredibly difficult balancing act with certain subject matter where you must treat something with gravity to show how serious it is but also be careful not to let it consume the character’s life and become the one thing they are defined by.
Another situation handled with beautiful complexity was the relationship of the father to his kids once they got divorced. The “deadbeat dad” trope is too easily slopped into plot lines where men who don’t live with their children/only see them every other weekend are horrible without exception but I thought they did a great job here to show how people can have separate lives but still care/try and succeed in having relationships. Ethan Hawke did a great job with this, having awkward conversations with his kids at bowling alleys or in the car, and it makes you wonder (if you’ve never had to do it yourself) what it’s like to try to create intimacy with someone as close as your own father, if they don’t just have it through the experience of living with you/being a daily part of your life.
We follow Mason as he moves (a bunch), goes through elementary school, middle school, high school, and eventually leave him on his first day of college. During all this I liked how the person he became was also the person he was the whole time. He turns into this challenging kind of disillusioned cynic (ish?) who is still thoughtful and open which is always how he was as a child- asking questions and trying to figure out the meaning of things or how they worked. Also there are occasional bad streaks but he’s mostly a good kid. Like one of the first scenes is him spray painting a wall, and on graduation he drinks in his car before heading into his house for a party, but these aren’t detracting from who he is. ALTHOUGH now as I’m writing this in such proximity to my other observations about the movie, what if these are his little hints and we’re supposed to assume as with everyone else that they will get worse and come to a head? But actually I don’t think that’s the intended takeaway because his mom and dad don’t have that happen to them, they stay good people despite minor slip ups in judgement or actions. His dad even mellows out a little (except not on his slight misogyny) but he’s mostly a good dude.
I was much intrigued by his sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater-related in some way to the director Richard Linklater I assume), who really fell out of the narrative as she got older. Maybe it was showing how it feels when siblings grow apart? When they were little she was a much bigger part of his life and we got to know her so much more compared to high school and college where she doesn’t talk that much and we don’t know almost any details about her life. But perhaps that’s just how it is when siblings grow up if they aren’t particularly close, or motivated to work on their relationship just then, or also it’s just that phase of a child’s life in general when they’re more sullen and withdrawn and learning their own personalities, creating boundaries for the first time, etc. The people in their lives kind of lose them until they have the Collegiate Confidence to be open again.
The ending of the movie was interesting- Mason arrives at college (after lots of discussions with people in his life about ‘compatibility,’ and a break up with Sheena (his high school girlfriend, the first person he truly felt understood him). His roommate, who it seems like Mason immediately likes, invites him hiking with two girls who are also roommates. They split up into boy and girl pairs and Mason is enjoying talking/tripping (they’ve also all eaten drugs- either mushrooms or weed chocolate I assume) with his new friend. They come to sit in a rock clearing so beautiful and expansive it looks like a screensaver. It looks like this new friend wants Mason to kiss her and at first he doesn’t get it, then it looks like he gets it he’s just nervous/shy/not ready yet. Then the girl says something about “moments” and he talks about living in the now and how everything just is what it is at present no more no less. Then the movie is over and a really great song called”Hero” by Family of the Year starts playing.
I’d give it 9/10 bowling lanes without bumpers, would masturbate again in 10 years.