By now chances are good you’ve heard about Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s film following the life of a fairly average (whatever that means) American boy from age 7 to 17. It got a lot of early buzz because of the unusual and risky way it was made–Linklater got the same group of actors together for about two weeks of filming a year for twelve years, so the actors are aging and changing in real time just like their characters. It’s fascinating to watch the physical transformation of Mason, the boy, from bowl-haircut grade-schooler to arty college freshman, but just as interesting to witness the subtler changes of the adults in his life–a little heavier here, a little skinnier there, more tired some years than others. The whole thing could have played like a stunt, but what’s on screen is so quietly involving, so warm and funny and real, that it wasn’t long before I forgot all about the backstory and just got lost in the movie. Boyhood is nearly three hours long, and I would have happily followed the characters for three more (well, ideally after a snack break). It’s up there with the very best movies I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a LOT of movies.
But why am I raving about it on my sobriety blog? Well, partly because I feel like an evangelist for this film, and evangelists are gonna evangelize, right? But also because I think it’s wonderful viewing for anyone who is newly or newly-ish sober, or struggling to be sober, or just wishing they were sober. Alcohol abuse is actually a minor theme in Boyhood, but that’s not why I found it so inspiring from a sobriety perspective (in fact, if I have a quibble with the film it’s that the alcohol theme doesn’t quite mesh dramatically with everything around it). What filled me with such joy was the sense of how broad life can be–how many times it can be reinvented, and not necessarily with a hard, traumatic line between one version and the next, but gently and organically. Sure, there are divorces and remarriages and career changes in Boyhood, but more attention is paid to their workaday component parts: a mom who has returned to college goes to her psychology class. A kid gets a camera. A man takes his second actuarial exam. And from those steps, they move into new versions of themselves.
(By the way, Boyhood is way more entertaining than ‘A man takes his second actuarial exam’ may have made it sound. Just in case you were having a teeny moment of doubt there.)
I have been sober for 426 days, and my life is better in ways that I never could have predicted back when all I wanted to do was stop the bleeding. But I can’t be the only one haunted by thoughts about the time I spent denying, and worrying, and endlessly making and breaking promises to myself. Just the worry time alone! It breaks my heart, it really does. I sometimes find myself living now as though I can make up that lost time, or antsy about how much time I have left to enjoy this new life. (I’m in my 40s and perfectly healthy, so my anxieties usually revolve around sudden accidents or cancers previously unknown to medical science or, you know, Ebola.) Boyhood did something wonderful for me, which was to show me that I have already lived a number of little lives inside this one big one, and that I can live as many more as I choose to. As a fairly newly sober person, and also just as a full-stop person, I found that enormously comforting. And if I were super newly sober, or only wishing to be sober, I think it would have felt like a benediction.
So see it if you can, because I am the kind of person who’ll keep bugging you until you do, and that’s going to get old fast. And let me know what you think.
Day 426. Life is wide, my friends.