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February 7, 2017

bhoodFilmed over a period of 12 years with the same cast members, the film begins as Olivia moves to Houston, Texas, with her son Mason and daughter Samantha after the disintegration of her marriage to the children’s father. From then on we follow Mason as he progresses from a child to a young man while dealing with his parents’ divorce and the numerous other difficulties of growing up.


Each year of Mason’s life is covered in an average of fourteen minutes of screen time.

The girl that Mason meets in the end of the film is named Nicole. When Mason got his haircut the girl who passed the note to him was also named Nicole, although it is unclear if this was the same girl.

Very typical stuff—a childhood that will remind a lot of viewers of their own: sometimes idyllic, sometimes tumultuous, sometimes confusing. We mostly see things from Mason’s perspective, which means he is sometimes more preoccupied with and aware of whatever is going on in his personal existence than with the bigger, more serious issues that the adults are dealing with. And some of them are pretty serious, like spousal abuse and alcoholism and not knowing where money is going to come from. But the film stays lighthearted; things, after all, eventually seem to turn out okay. Life has a way of going on. We have a way of becoming who we will be.

Our relationships to each other in families don’t stay the same over the course of our lives. Siblings start as our playmates, then our rivals, and eventually become our friends. Parents go from being protectors to, sometimes, needing to be protected—or they do some growing up of their own. And of course, we rarely notice ourselves changing

As people come and go in Mason’s and Sam’s lives—from stepdads to teachers to neighborhood friends—the one relationship that remains positive for them is the one with their otherwise deadbeat dad, Mason Sr. He and their mother can’t seem to remain in the same room together for long, but he consistently tries to stay connected and be a loving dad. He gives them advice based on his own experiences and stumbles, plays with them, creates bonding experiences and repeatedly voices his love for them.

That kind of attention changes them. And Dad also appears changed by their interactions. He totally realigns his vagabond life, eventually remarrying and starting a new family. Divorce and remarriage aren’t in life’s positive column, of course, but he’s only half joking when he says to his son, “[I’ve turned into the] boring, castrated guy that your mom probably wanted 15 or 20 years ago.” He thanks his former wife for working so hard to raise the kids.

The only Christians we meet—the parents of Mason Sr.’s second wife—are depicted as a cartoonish joke of a pair who mindlessly cling to their bibles and guns. In fact, for Mason’s 15th birthday they give him a bible and the family shotgun. That Sunday Mason and Sam are forced to “suffer” through a church service with them (where we hear the pastor preach, “Blessed are they who can believe without seeing”).

After all this “church stuff,” Sam asks her dad, “You’re not becoming one of those God people, are you?” Dad assures her he’s not.

A younger Mason, who’s a big fan of the Harry Potter books, asks his father if there is any real magic, like elves, in the world. Dad says no, but suggests that describing a whale to someone who’s never seen one would sound just as magical. School kids are told to write an essay on “gods and goddesses.”

Through a Gospel lens, what makes Boyhood so important is that it tracks how a human person is basically lost through the lack of a serious and intelligent formation in his youth. As Aristotle noted in his Nicomachean Ethics, a happy life comes down to habits of virtue instilled in youth. Boyhood lurches through the journey of a young person who is given little if any formation in virtue.

In “Boyhood,” Mason is shown growing like grass, gaining earthly “glory,” while on a parallel track the adults around him — his parents, in particular — are withering grass whose flower is falling. Profound dramatic tension underpins the film when viewed through the lens of Scripture in this way. Time is depicted as unstoppable, and the question, “What if you aren’t seizing the moment in life — what if the moment is seizing you?” comes into sharp focus.

The “falling flower” of life touches Mason as he grows like the grass. Two short, quiet moments illustrate this early in the film. One comes in a scene where the family is preparing to move, and Mason has the job of painting over any marks inside the house. The camera focuses in on him painting the doorjamb where his mother marked her children’s growth. The other comes when Mason, as a young boy, sits alone and carefully looks at the decomposing carcass of a small bird. Nostalgia runs up against the pragmatic, death runs up against life, and the mediator is the character of time.

Boyhood is a magical, entrancing film, but for Christians it should be required viewing for a serious reason: to understand why so many young people in our culture are so wounded, and so, so lost. Who doesn’t belong to or know a broken family like Mason’s — divorced parents who love their kids, but who are incapable of providing them with stability and discipline, much less with the moral compass created by religious conviction.

Mason: Dad, there’s no real magic in the world, right?

Dad: What do you mean?

Mason: You know, like elves and stuff. People just made that up.

Dad: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, what makes you think that elves are any more magical than something like a whale? Yoy know what I mean? What if I told you a story about how underneath the ocean, there was this giant sea mammal that used sonar and sang songs and it was so big that its heart was the size of a car and you could crawl through the arteries? I mean, you’d think that was pretty magical, right?

Nicole: You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kinda thinking it’s the other way around. You know, like the moment seizes us.

Mason: Yeah. Yeah, I know. It’s constant – -the moment. It’s just… It’s like it’s always right now, you know?

Nicole: Yeah.

Dad: [Mason Jr. bowls a gutterball] Alright, don’t worry about it.

Mason: I wish I could use the bumpers…

Dad: You don’t want the bumpers, life doesn’t give you bumpers.



Mom: [Mason is leaving for college] This is the worst day of my life.

Mason: What are you talking about?

Mom: [Starts crying] I knew this day was coming. I just… I didn’t know you were going to be so fucking happy to be leaving.

Mason: I mean it’s not that I’m that happy… what do you expect?

Mom: You know what I’m realising? My life is just going to go. Like that. This series of milestones. Getting married. Having kids. Getting divorced. The time that we thought you were dyslexic. When I taught you how to ride a bike. Getting divorced… again. Getting my masters degree. Finally getting the job I wanted. Sending Samantha off to college. Sending you off to college. You know what’s next? Huh? It’s my fucking funeral! Just go, and leave my picture!

Mason: Aren’t you jumping ahead by, like, 40 years or something?

Mom: I just thought there would be more.

Mr. Turlington: Zero. It’s not gonna happen for you, Mason. The world is too competitive. There are too many talented people who are willing to work hard; and a buttload of morons who are untalented, who are more than willing to surpass you. As a matter of fact, a lot of them are sitting in that classroom out there right now. Hm? You know what they’re doing? They’re doing their assignments. Which is what you’re supposed to be doing, but you’re not. You’re in here. Now, why is that? You’re special, Mason?

Mason: No, but, I mean, the things you’re talking about, like, work ethic or whatever, I feel like I do work pretty hard. I spend the hold weekend taking pictures a lot of times.

Mason: So what’s the point?

Dad: Of what?

Mason: I don’t know, any of this. Everything.

Dad: Everything? What’s the point? I mean, I sure as shit don’t know. Neither does anybody else, okay? We’re all just winging it, you know? The good news is you’re feeling stuff. And you’ve got to hold on to that.

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