Fifty-two years ago, Peter O’Toole considered his plans for the Turks in “Lawrence of Arabia” and said, “No prisoners.” Thirteen years ago, Richard Linklater considered his plans for “Boyhood” and said, “No options.”
“There was never a plan B, never,” says Linklater, whose film, as most likely know by now, was shot over 12 years and follows the life of a boy in Texas (Ellar Coltrane) from kindergarten to college. At no time during those dozen years, Linklater explains, was there an alternative scheme for the movie.
“I actually never had a movie,” he says. “It wasn’t a movie till the end. But I was so firmly entrenched in the story and the outline and the end was so much a part of it — he goes off to college. I never had another option.”
In a season of innovative films, “Boyhood” is probably the most discussed and groundbreaking, a thing that had simply not been done before.
“To tell you the truth, I wasn’t 100% sure it hadn’t been done before,” Linklater says. “I fully expected someone in Europe to say, ‘Oh, yes, a similar film was made in Helsinki between 1957 and 1969 …,’ but no one’s come forward with anything remotely like it. It’s gotten its peer-group review.”
Linklater says he fully understands why no one had done it. “It’s wildly impractical, especially in a narrative way, but also for budgetary and legal reasons and all the contractual uncertainties,” he says. “Corporations would never agree to doing something like this; no studio is going to invest $50 million in such a long-term project. ‘Boyhood’ would only fly because we were so low-budget.”
At the same time, what his movie has proven is that there’s a lot of power in an impractical idea, the sense of investment an audience has watching young Coltrane grow up before their eyes, and how that makes a very grounded storyline take flight — despite the inescapable novelty of the form. Or for that matter, the inescapable discussions about the filmmaking, rather than the film.
“If people weren’t moved by the movie itself, if it was just a gimmick, that would have been one thing,” he says. “But what’s moving people is the story, how invested they are. When I saw that, I saw the process as a blessing. It makes it comprehensible. It conveys urgency. Which all adds up to people seeing it. And how do you complain about that?”
During the making of the film, Linklater warned his young actors, who included his own daughter, Lorelei, not to expect anyone to see “Boyhood,” “or care that much about it.”
“I said to Ellar, ‘Explain this movie to me,’” Linklater recalls. “And five sentences in, I would say, ‘OK, stop. See? Right there is why no one’s going to see it, because you can’t explain it.’
“But we were missing the forest for the trees. Explaining the structure actually is explaining the film, and that hadn’t crossed my mind.”
Will anyone make another “Boyhood”? Or, as someone at a recent Q&A suggested to Linklater — “Manhood”?
“Maybe in a different form,” he offers. “When this film appeared in my head, the only way it would work was the way I made it. Obviously, one thing I do have is patience, and I looked forward to having a canvas no one had had before. And past a certain point, it just motivated itself. It created its own energy.”