Boyhood (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (24th April 2023).
The Film

Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)

Twelve years in the making, US indie auteur Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (2014) joined the ranks of other long-in-production films such as Aleksey German’s Hard to be a God (2013, filmed over six years). Many films featuring extended production periods are the product of unhappy accidents (such as the departure or deaths of key members of the cast or crew, or issues involving financing). However, in the case of Boyhood the lengthy production process was a deliberate choice on the part of Linklater. With an almost anthropological focus, Boyhood traces the journey of its protagonist, Mason, from the age of six to eighteen – in other words, from his first years at school to his graduation from high school. During this time, we see Mason and his family age onscreen (actor Ethan Hawke once claimed the film was “a little bit like time-lapse photography of a human being”), Boyhood documenting the rites of passage of American adolescence.

Admittedly, as some of the criticisms directed towards the film over the years since its release have highlighted, this vision of adolescence is culturally specific: not only is it American, it’s also white, male, heterosexual, and predominantly middle-class. (We could also add that the film is profoundly Texan.) With regards the first three points, there’s an element of “so what” in response to this: alternative experiences of adolescence are (in)arguably best explored through the lenses of filmmakers other than Linklater. And to be fair, with regards the latter point, there’s a strong argument to be made that whilst the film’s examination of adolescence is foregrounded, Boyhood focuses equally on the potential for (or at least, the striving for) social mobility. It does this through an examination of Mason’s parents’ lives: to a great extent, Boyhood is not just about Mason’s (Ellar Coltrane) journey from childhood to (young) adulthood, but also about the “growing up” of his Gen X mother (Olivia, played by Patricia Arquette) and dad (Mason Sr, played by Ethan Hawke).

During the film, we see Mason Sr “grow” from being a dropout and aspiring musician who treasures his battered Pontiac GTO and lives in a flatshare with another slacker-musician, Jimmy (played by real life musician Charles Wayne Sexton), to a suit-wearing salesman who, much to Mason’s dismay, sells his Pontiac for a more sensible/professional family car when he settles down and builds a new family with his lover Annie (Jenni Tooley). (Later in the film, we learn that Jimmy has progressed to a successful career in a band.)

Likewise, we see Olivia’s attempts to provide the best for her family and elevate them economically, and we see her pass through a variety of relationships with men – all of whom, the film suggests, fail to equal Mason Sr in terms of his childish wonderment at the world. (The dialogue suggests that Olivia and Mason Sr’s relationship came to an end because the pair met when they were “too young,” as Mason Sr describes it, and Olivia became tired of Mason Sr’s apparent immaturity and lack of responsibility.) As the film opens, Olivia is in a relationship with a man named Ted (Steven Chester Prince), but this comes to an end when Ted asserts that Olivia spends too little time with him and focuses too heavily on her children.

In subsequent years, we see Olivia enrol as a student at the University of Houston, where she begins an affair with her lecturer, Dr Bill Wellbrock (Marco Perella), whom she eventually marries. Wellbrock has two children whom Mason and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter) respond warmly to. However, Wellbrock descends into alcoholism and a spiral of abusive behaviour, leading Olivia to leave the house with her children. (The scene in which Mason and Sam realise that their step-siblings are going to be left alone with the cruel father is truly heartbreaking.)

Having graduated from her degree programme, Olivia herself becomes a lecturer and establishes a relationship with Jim (Brad Hawkins), a veteran of the Second Gulf War. Jim is initially kind but firm with the kids, and fosters Mason’s growing fascination with photography. However, eventually Jim slides into an alcoholic funk and becomes more demanding of Mason, in particular; sensing a repeat of her relationship with Wellbrock, Olivia ends her relationship with Jim and struggles financially.

Where Mason Sr’s trajectory is onwards and upwards, Olivia’s attempts at social mobility stall and falter partly in response to her relationships with various men; the film seems to suggest that economic “betterment” is much easier for men than it is for women. (One of the film’s qualities, largely derived from its method of production, is that it is often elliptical and avoids black-and-white moralising, refusing to “wrap up” a number of its narrative threads: for example, we are never party to the reasons for Jim’s slow slide into booze, leaving us to wonder if he has perhaps been battling with PTSD.)

That said, Mason is clearly the focal point of the film. Boyhood opens with an overhead shot of the six year old Mason as he lays on the grass, looking up at the sky whilst waiting for Olivia to collect him from school. (Coldplay’s “Yellow” plays on the soundtrack.) The film ends with Mason, newly enrolled on a photography programme at university, enjoying the company of a young woman – the suggestion of a new romantic relationship in the air just as Mason enters a new stage of his life, facing greater independence whilst living away from home.

There is a strong autobiographical element in the film, with Mason’s mother and father apparently being strongly based on Linklater, Hawke and Arquette’s own respective parents: like the older Mason Sr, Linklater and Hawke’s fathers were insurance agents; and like Olivia, Arquette’s mother earned her university degree as a mature student and became a psychotherapist.

Aside from its focus on Mason and his family, Boyhood also tracks the cultural and political landscape in the US. In one sequence, Mason Sr engages the young Mason and his sister Samantha to go door-to-door promoting Obama over McCain in the run-up to the 2008 elections, at one point encouraging the pair to tear up a placard promoting McCain from the garden of a nearby house. Later, Mason Sr and his children spend time with Annie’s parents, who are traditional “red state” Texans whose chief interests are churchgoing and gun ownership. (Annie’s father gifts Mason Jr a shotgun and a bible.) Despite this, however, the more mature Mason Sr – who earlier in the film would no doubt have been hostile to such a conservative family unit – displays a warm relationship with Annie’s parents, demonstrating that the bonds of shared humanity can overcome political differences and reminding us of how humanistic Linklater’s worldview is (and always had been). (At one point, Mason Sr admits to his now-18 year old son that “I’ve probably turned into the boring, castrated guy she [Olivia] wanted me to be 18 years ago.” It’s a film that reminds us that parents can make mistakes: that they don’t have powers of omniscience, and their judgements may be flawed.

Boyhood is a picture comprised of fleeting moments, presenting the audience with fragments of a life well lived. Linklater’s approach is perhaps best compared with the stream-of-consciousness prose style of modernist writers such as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. Moments claw their way to the front of the narrative, just as memories return to us in fragments: a summer when we were 11, going to a new school, seismic changes at home, moving house, that autumn when you fell in love for the first time….

It's also a superlative “hang out” movie, with Mason and Sam being afforded the opportunity to hang out with that most iconic of Gen X-ers, Ethan Hawke. Hawke demonstrably has a whale of a time in his role as Mason Sr. Some criticism has been levelled against the depiction of Mason Sr as compared with Olivia: in other words, Mason Sr appears at various opportunities to give life advice to his kids and have fun with them, whilst Olivia has to “make do” with day-to-day chores and issues. However, this is arguably a product of the film’s heavy focalisation through Mason: in cases of family break-up, the “absent” parent is almost invariably romanticised, because those “snatched” moments tend to be associated with major life events (birthdays, holidays) or other fun activities. Life with the “everyday” parent – going to school, doing homework, household chores and daily routines – is much less exciting.

At the core of the film is familial love: Olivia and Mason Sr clearly love both of their children, and they also seem to love one another… perhaps no longer in a sexual or romantic sense, but certainly in a profound way. “I still love your father,” Olivia tells the kids at one point, “That doesn’t mean it was healthy for us to stay together.” Olivia and Mason Sr’s lives may have stalled in their respective youths owing to the birth of Sam and then, later, Mason. However, Linklater’s film shows them using their adulthood to progress in their own lives whilst supporting their children emotionally; despite their differences, Olivia and Mason Sr surround their children in the nurturing warmth of familial love, and as the credits roll one is left with the impression that Mason will become a well-balanced, productive, and caring adult.


Arrow have released Boyhood in both a 4k UHD version and a “regular” Blu-ray release. The latter was provided to us for review.

On the Blu-ray, Boyhood is presented in 1080p, using the AVC codec. The presentation retains the film’s intended aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

was shot in colour, on 35mm film. Linklater has spoken in interviews about ensuring that the finished picture had a unified aesthetic, and though it may have been easier given how digital technology developed during the 12 year production period, he didn’t want to mix the 35mm footage with HD digital video. However, the 35mm footage was scanned and the film was assembled digitally.

The Blu-ray contains an excellent presentation of the film. The image is rich and deep, with plenty of fine detail present in close-ups. The texture of 35mm film is present throughout, and this structure is retained via a robust encode to disc.

Colours are rich and consistent. This is particularly noticeable in a sequence set in the darkroom of the school that Mason attends, with Mason and his teacher bathed in the deep red of the darkroom’s safe light. The majority of the film is shot in a very naturalistic style, and skintones are balanced and accurate throughout.

Contrast levels are very pleasing, with some deep blacks that show gradation from the midtone to the toe, and highlights being balanced.

In sum, Arrow’s release of Boyhood is very strong, capturing the texture of the 35mm-shot film superbly.

NB. Some full-sized screengrabs are included at the bottom of this review.


Audio is presented via a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (in English, natch). Boyhood doesn’t feature a showy sound mix, but the surrounds make the dialogue scenes come alive and add an element of auditory immersion. The audio comes alive with Linklater’s judicious use of music to track the linear progression within the years of Mason’s youth. (When Mason Sr tells Mason to “listen to the production” on Wilco’s “Hate It Here,” which he plays on the radio in his Pontiac GTO whilst the pair are traveling, Linklater might as well be speaking to the audience.)

Optional English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing are provided. These are accurate in transcribing the dialogue and easy to read.


The disc includes the following extra features:
- ‘Without Ambition One Starts Nothing’ (46:13). This is a conversation between poet-critic Dan Chiasson and his son, Louis Chiasson. The pair talk about Boyhood and its impact on their relationship. Chiasson took the then-10 year old Louis and his younger brother to see Boyhood theatrically in 2014, after having seen it himself for the first time shortly before. Louis Chiasson reflects that the film was the first “R” rated picture he and his brother had seen at the cinema. It’s an interesting inclusion on the disc, using Linklater’s film as a lens to view the personal relationship between a father and his son – and then employing this as a springboard for engagement with some of the broader issues raised by Boyhood (such as adolescence, and the parent-child relationship).

- ‘In Search of Lost Time’ (23:45). This is a new video essay assembled by Scout Tafoya, who has written for and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Tafoya begins by reflecting on the significance of train journeys within Linklater’s films, and the connection between the idea of a journey and the passage of time. Tafoya reflects on encountering the poster for Linklater’s Waking Life at the age of 11 or 12, being fascinated with it, and later coming to the realisation that Linklater’s films are about “capturing the present.” (As a certified Gen X-er who presumably is a good decade or considerably more older than Tafoya, and who enthusiastically saw a number of Linklater’s 90s films theatrically, I did find myself rolling my eyes slightly at this assertion and thinking that this aspect of Linklater’s work was apparent from the get-go; it wasn’t so much the recognition of the theme that caused this but rather the subtle framing of it as revelatory.) Tafoya skirts around the existentialist, humanist nature of Linklater’s films – touching on these themes but not confronting them directly. There’s plenty of insight here, but I can’t help feel that Tafoya’s narration has a tendency to dwell on the obvious but discuss it in a frustratingly circumlocutory manner that strives to be poetic; this is most definitely a case of “Your Mileage May Vary,” though.

- ‘Before and After Boyhood’ (23:38). Writer Rob Stone – author of The Cinema of Richard Linklater: Walk, Don’t Run – interviews Linklater, in audio recordings from 2009 and 2015. This is perhaps the most insightful feature on the disc, in terms of outlining Linklater’s approach to filmmaking and the underlying point-of-view within the filmmaker’s methodologies. We hear Linklater discussing at length the gestation of the Boyhood project and the processes involved in bringing it to the screen, at a time when Linklater was still in the midst of the film’s lengthy production and then after the release of the complete picture.

- ‘Richard Linklater at the BFI’ (52:07). Recorded in 2014, this features Linklater in conversation for the BFI. He discusses his approach to making Boyhood in the midst of filming a number of other features. Linklater talks in depth about pitching the Boyhood project and sustaining the production over such a lengthy period of time. Comparisons are drawn between this project and Truffaut’s work with Leaud, and Linklater expresses a fascination with the “manipulation” of time through cinema.

- Theatrical Trailer (1:34).

- Image Gallery (52 images)
. This contains a mixture of production stills and framegrabs (including the film’s opening image, memorably used on the poster).


Boyhood’s narrative is probably best described as episodic, the film revisiting Mason at several key stages in his life. There are recurring themes and leitmotifs that pop up throughout the picture, and a loose trajectory for all of the characters. The film is, of course, about Mason’s journey from childhood to young adulthood, but it’s also about the development of his sister and, in particular, the sense of growth experienced by his parents. In point of fact, Boyhood feels as much a film about “Gen X” and its diverse approaches to parenthood (and how parenthood forces “Gen X”-ers to finally “grow up”) as it does about Mason’s youth. Fundamentally, Boyhood is a picture that, from a parent’s point-of-view, reminds us of how quickly our own children grow up, their childhood returning to us in often jumbled, disconnected fragments.

Arrow’s release of Boyhood is excellent. The film gets a solid HD presentation on this disc, and some pleasing contextual material. There’s a Criterion Collection release in the US with some different “extras,” including a commentary by Linklater and some of his collaborators; but Arrow’s 4k release is presently the only release in that format. (As someone who’s “been there” for Linklater’s cinema since his early films, I’m still waiting for a features-packed Blu-ray release of the hugely underrated SubUrbia. Pretty please.)

Full-sized screengrabs. Please click each image to enlarge.


Rewind DVDCompare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to,,,,, and . As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.