A closer look at… Boyhood


Boyhood is rated 15 for strong language, sex references, drug use

The Scoop

Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is six. He cycles around the neighbourhood with his friends, talks with his mother (Patricia Arquette) about his problems at school, and squabbles with his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Their estranged father (Ethan Hawke) drops by at the weekend to shower his children with gifts and empty promises.

Mason is seven. The family are moving house. He is eight; nine; his mother remarries. His father takes him camping. As we watch him and his family grow older before our eyes over the course of twelve years, milestone moments fly by. Innocence is lost, and experience gained. Their lives, like our own, are completely ordinary – and completely extraordinary.

  • Did you enjoy the film, and why or why not? Is it comparable to anything else you have seen? How well did the finished film live up to the director’s original ambition to document a boy’s adolescence in real-time?
  • What did you make of the central performances by Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette? How might the unusual filmmaking process have affected their approach to their characters?

‘I care more about structure, less about plots. Anything plot-driven feels a little more man-made, more manufactured. I’m always going toward something that’s a little more true to life.’ – Director Richard Linklater

  • What kind of story, or plot, does Boyhood have? How might you define ‘story’, ‘structure’ and ‘plot’, and what is the distinction between them? Which interests you the most?


  • How did you react to the transitions forward in time over the course of the film? Why do you think the director chose not to flag up these transitions by, for example, showing us the date of each year onscreen?
  • When did you feel most emotionally involved in Mason’s story? What is the cumulative emotional impact of seeing so much time pass by in a few hours? What makes the passage of time such an emotionally loaded thing?
  • How universal is Mason’s story? What are some of the common ‘rites of passage’ for all of us as we grow up? How many of the moments featured in the film tied in with your own memories of childhood, and what emotions did this spark?
  • What does the film have to say about the factors which influence our formation as we grow up? What influential voices does Mason hear during his childhood and adolescence, and how do they affect him? Does Boyhood draw any conclusions about how identity forms?


  • What does Boyhood have to say about masculinity, and what it means to ‘become a man’? What images of masculinity and attitudes towards women does Mason see in his father, stepfathers and peers? To what extent are these images and attitudes positive, and what might they reflect about our culture?

‘Anybody can take pictures, Mason. Art, that’s special.’ – Mr Turlington (Tom McTigue)

  • How might this statement, from Mason’s teacher, apply to the film itself? How – and how successfully – does Richard Linklater turn snapshots of Mason’s ordinary life into ‘art’?
  • What moral judgments, if any, does the film make on Olivia and Mason Sr. for their parenting of Mason and Samantha? How does their separation impact the children at a young age? To what extent is each of them painted in a positive light, and how do they grow and change over the course of the film?


  • Are any significant moral questions raised by the production process behind Boyhood? What responsibilities did the director have when casting child actors for a twelve-year project, and in the annual filming of their lives?

‘I’ve spent the first half of my life acquiring all of this stuff. Now I’m going to spend the second half getting rid of it.’ – Olivia

  • To what extent is Boyhood a film about loss? What are the things which we inevitably lose or move on from in life, and how can we deal with this difficult process? In your view, are these losses more or less significant than the things which we gain?

‘So what’s the point of any of this?’ – Mason

  • How does each of the characters in Boyhood approach the search for meaning in life? Does the film draw any conclusions on this question, and if so, to what extent did you find them helpful? What is the best way to approach the search for meaning in our own lives?


181 thoughts on “A closer look at… Boyhood”

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