I went to see Boyhood last night with a friend. The movie follows the life of a family through twelve years, and we watch the two children growing up. The movie especially tuned into Mason’s, the young boy’s, story as he ages from six years old to eighteen. In case you don’t know, the children acually grow up on-screen, and Patricia Arquette, the mother, and Ethan Hawke, the father, play their roles year in and year out for twelve years, aging onscreen along with the children.
In many ways, this family portrays the typical American family in that it includes divorce (three for Arquette’s Olivia), the striving to make something out of your lost life (Olivia goes back to college and becomes a university professor), surrendering to conformity (Hawke’s Mason Sr. finally settles down with wife number two and buys a conservative mini-van), and the plight of the free-thinking child (Ellar Coltranes’ Mason), when adults-in-general try to suppress his creativity.
Even though the story belongs to Mason, I found Arquette’s Olivia to be the most interesting character. She is fascinating to watch as she goes through life looking for meaning and never really finding it. She portrays a most elegant boredom, the plight of someone who never really wakes up even though they try and try.
Olivia does many things right. She goes back to school. She receives an MA. She gets the job of her dreams. She becomes a good teacher. She raises children who turn out to be good human beings. Yet she fails in her personal life in regard to finding men who may give her the substance that she searches for.
It is easy to gloss over her first marriage as she was young and pregnant. Mason Sr. was and is a fun guy, full of spontaneity but not big on responsibility. He doesn’t see his kids for many years and she struggles to raise them. When he does come back into their lives, he adds levity to the situation, and does turn into a good dad, but he is not someone Olivia trusts to be there when she needs financial help.
Her second husband owns a big brick home and is financially stable. He takes her to Paris on their honeymoon and he seems like a good guy. At first. But then we witness his critical nature and his alcoholism zooms out of control, leading her to leave him.
Her third husband seems more promising. Younger than Olivia, he is a student in one of her classes, an ex-serviceman who has served his country. He is someone with a sense of moral integrity she finds so attractive. Yet parenting overwhelms him and he turns resentful and the distance between them widens. Exit husband number three.
Each man represents something that Olivia needs. Her first husband represents fun and goofiness and joy. Her second husband represents home and financial stability. Her third husband represents moral character and ethics. If only she could merge the three of them to make the perfect husband.
Olivia has never really lost herself in love. Her life has been about struggle. She is understated, and except for one scene in which we see her engaged in teaching her class, we rarely see her inner life firing up her passion.
Life is a series of doors Olivia must open and walk through while she hopes to find herself, yet ultimately they lead nowhere. We get the feeling that what she needed was a new set of doors, that the ones she opened were not meant for her.