Watching "Boyhood" by Richard Linklater, director of the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight, inspires me to put capture a few thoughts about life, my life, my family's life, living in this civilization, and living in this universe.
For those unfamiliar, Richard, along with Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, filmed Boyhood over 12 years, about 3-days per year, starting with two 7 or 8 year old actors, a boy Ellar Coltrane, and Richard's daughter Lorelei. The first frame, Ellar, playing Mason Jr., laying on the grass at his school, staring upwards, thinking, watching the clouds go by. The last frame, Ellar staring forwards, sitting next to his new friend, a potential romantic interest. In between, scenes from his families life, one scene for each year.
My first reflection is how children grow up so quickly, and how it is really only in retrospect that we see that, and we think back about "oh, why didn't I do this; or, oh, why didn't I do that". I love spending time with my two sons (4 and 7 years old), and when I'm away from them, I often think how much I wish I was just with them at that moment. Oddly, when we're together, my level of motivation is not as high as I imagine it should be, so instead of going for a hike, I send them out to play on their own. It seems like a contradiction, which I can certainly spend some time rationalizing, or which I can instead ponder, as if I were an outside agent, a viewer, looking in.
Ellar and Mason are different. Ellar was written to attend college. Mason is not (yet) attending. Intriguingly, since the film was just released this year, and Ellar is not a big name child actor, he is just now getting recognized for his Mason character, and is coming to grips both with the film, and with what it means to play himself in the film, but at the same time, to play the made up character Mason. Toward the bottom of this article is a video interview featuring Ellar, Ethan and Patricia about coming to grips with this unique film experience, and how it is impacting them all.
I imagine creating such a film with my sons and sister's kids. How fun would that be, to take one long weekend a year to play, and to make a film, not about ourselves, but about our visions of ourselves. I think that, for Richard, it may be his favorite film because he gets to watch Lorelei growing up during it, as probably will his family, and Ellar's family. Now-a-days we can capture, and I do capture, tons of photos and videos of our kids as they grow up, but many of those moments are very normal; the birthday parties, the first days of schools, the holidays. How often do we stop to savor the "moments between the moments", as this film puts it, the talks in the car on the way home, the dinner table conversations, the solitary first drive to college.
After walking through the Chicago Art Institute yesterday, I thought about how, with our phones, we have the capability of all being great personal artists. We can take pictures, record sound, capture video, write down our thoughts.
What moments would I record from the past day?
* The post-timeout talk with my 7 year old, where we talked about him asking for me permission, me saying "no", and him doing it anyway... and my reassurance that I loved him so much, and loved being his dad, and how he was awesome.
* Practicing shooting baskets together, adjusting the seat on his bike, pushing them around and around on the tire swing
* Lifting up my 4-year old, hugging him, carrying him around, telling him how he is so important to me.
* Getting up at night to help my kids to the bathroom, and the little chats we have, and then tucking them back into bed with their too-small yet comfy blankets
Wouldn't it be interesting to have Richard, invisible Richard, follow us around and film these moments, and the moments between those bigger moments.
Life is not about the theme park; it is about what happens despite the theme park.
Which means to me: life isn't about the things that we schedule in our lives, the gymnastics camp, the playground trip, going to school, but the things that happen despite of that.
After all, even though we exist and are part of this civilization and these activities and scheduled things, we are still human, human animals, animals, and exist simultaneously with civilization and despite it. We did not evolve, along with all other life here on Earth, because of civilization, but despite it.
In the very few places where humans still live as part of the world, and apart from this civilization, the children still run and play and jump and interact with their parents, and they learn first and foremost from the people interacting with the natural world around them, and with them as children. This is how humans evolved into this animal we now are, as part of community, learning from that community, about how to live in this world and as part of the culture we are a part of. This is the "normal" that I think of, and the "right" that I think of. What is normal for the kids to do? To be doing? What is the right thing to do with them? What is the right thing for them to be doing?
From this film one can vaguely glimpse the essence of this real "normal" hidden under what this civilization and mother culture tell us is "normal" and "right".
Perhaps this is the last film I should watch, ever. After all, at some point, every one of us will be done watching films. Why not now? :-) How many more hours of my life do I want to allow into my heart and mind to modified and shaped by civilization? Wouldn't writing, drawing, photographing, videoing, creating, playing and interacting be a much more pleasurable and true pursuit.
Mason Jr. asks Mason Sr. (Ethan) what is the meaning and purpose of life. I remember when I a pledge at my fraternity Triangle at the University of Michigan. I was 19, almost 20, and we were assigned to interview all the fraternity brothers, so that we could get to know them. We wrote up our own list of questions, with some suggestions from our pledge manual. One of my own was: "What is the meaning of life?" And, through out my life, I've pondered this, and my answer has grown and changed over these 20 or 30 years that I've been thinking about it. I like Mason Sr.'s answer, that he doesn't know, he's just doing the best he can.
And like the film, this writing does not necessarily have a big studio formula, with a 1st, 2nd, 3rd Act, with rising action, climax, falling action. But, it does feel good just to write, and to see where my thoughts might take me.
During most of this writing, I've looped this song, which plays at during the film credits: "Deep Blue" by Arcade Fire. Normally, I don't listen to the story of lyrics, just words and phrases. One part speaks to me.
Put the cellphone down for a while
In the night there is something wild
Can you hear it breathing?
Put the laptop down for a while
In the night there is something wild
I feel it, it's leaving me
I did exactly that, putting down the cell phone yesterday, so I could attend to what was going on; and I continued to leave it off this morning so I could do some writing. And, in a few moments, I'm going to put the laptop down, and go outside and perhaps see something wild, and true, and look forward to my kids coming home from gymnastics camp.
Arcade Fire Music/Video/Performance
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDIRT_NEMxo -- music only
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCPGOMtz4FQ -- live on stage