Boyhood: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Downfall of American Civilization

boyhood-arquetteY1_2963900cAfter all the accolades it’s been receiving and the good word-of-mouth from family and friends, my wife and I were pretty hopeful about a great night-in watching the multi-Oscar nominated film Boyhood streaming for rent on our Roku.  Aside from the fact that the editing of footage shot over a 12 year year period was extraordinarily seamless, I was utterly disappointed in the outcome of this kid’s story.  Make no mistake, the film is well crafted, the acting engrosses you and the movie moves pretty well for 2 hours and 45 minutes. That said, it’s unclear to me if director Richard Linklater intended all along to present a purely fictional story about a broken family who struggles to keep it together with little to no help from asking extended family, friends or a power greater than themselves or if it just evolved that way over the course of its 12 year production because it mirrored a life close to him.  Because if the 18 year old man we windup being left with at the end of this film is any indication of what our society is inheriting now, than we are truly screwed.  With this film, Linklater may have just wound up delivering the penultimate anecdote of what is to be the story of the downfall of American civilization.

By no means am I trying to call out Linklater for telling an unrealistic story, quite the contrary – sadly it’s too realistic. From this struggling Texas suburban family to the affluent ones that dot the coastline hills of Pacific Palisades, CA – single parent homes or work-aholic parents raise young boys and girls who’s only preoccupation is with entertaining themselves and feeling good.

For a bit of context on my gloom-and-doom prognostication, please watch this 90 second scene from the HBO miniseries John Adams. In it, Adams accompanies Ben Franklin to France. During a lavish meal with the French court,  John Adams is asked if he has been able to enjoy the latest in fine arts.  Here is the scene:

Adams’ answers is perfect political spin. It allows him to defend his current occupations while complimenting his French hosts interests as being ones he wishes his grandchildren will be able to pursue, once American independence is achieved.  I note this scene because it would be just over a decade or so later that this French civilization, the one that was consumed with entertainment, pleasures, and, if I may, a fractured society filled with narcissists of all economic statuses, would suffer it’s own internal downfall due to revolution.

Is Boyhood that last rear view mirror image as we drive head first off the cliff?  Are the last three American generations (the Baby Boomers, Generation X and the Millennials) Adams’ “grandchildren” he speaks of?  I have a feeling we are.  I know more people with art history, film school, music and entertainment law degrees than I do those who studied math, science and tech, (maybe that just says a lot more about me living in Los Angeles).   I don’t know much about Adams’ opinion of the events leading up to the French Revolution other than he sensed its potential for horrific violence and was most certainly very different from the American version.  However, if the above scene in the miniseries is aoriginal proper indication of the mindset, one can’t blame me for making these correlations between a civilization’s collapse and its citizenry’s interests.  By no means do I wish to personally attack those who’s passion is the arts,  after all I’m a filmmaker myself.  It’s that inside-looking-out perspective that allows me to analyze it as such.  I also don’t wish to trivialize the other events leading up to and surrounding the revolution.  I only wish to point out that much like the fall of the Roman Empire, where guests of dinner parties with extravagant meals actually laid down while eating, that life’s pleasures, for some, were at their most enjoyable right before the fall.

Perhaps I’m looking too much into the simple tale of this Boyhood family.  Perhaps, I need to just stop worrying about it all, order a pizza on my smartphone, make my own soda and hit the Roku play button on the next episode of House of Cards and enjoy it while it lasts.

Matt Edwards

Matt Edwards is a filmmaker in his native Los Angeles. He is an alumnus of the 2011 Taliesin Nexus Filmmakers Workshop, a 2014 Liberty Lab Fellow and the current editor of SCC. Matt is also host of the The Rear View film podcast. Follow @TRVpodcast and @mattchrised on Twitter.