This deeply moving coming of age film explores the life of an ordinary boy transformed by the world around him. Linklater uses the same actors over 12 years, allowing us to see the protagonist, Mason, literally grow up in front of our eyes. The character progression is seamless and going from junior school through to college, the sequence of events makes it hard not to feel like you have grown up alongside him.
Mason’s life is scarred from the start with detachment a key component. His dad left for a period, leaving his mum to raise him and his sister Samantha alone. His mum tries to balance raising them, maintaining a job and going back to community college. It is a familiar story for many single parents struggling to stay above the poverty line. Her love life is no escape. Her need to create a perfect family finds her plagued by drunken husbands leading to violent divorces.
We follow everything from Mason’s perspective. There is a lack of information about the other characters. This gives a distorted view of a world skewed by misinformation. This is shown most visibly in the way that politics occasionally invade his isolated existence. There is a hilarious scene in a bowling alley where their dead-beat dad tells them to “vote for anyone but Bush” in contradiction to what they’re being told in school about a “just war” after 9/11. Later on he has both Mason and Samantha placing Obama signs in people’s front lawns. Mason never fully understands why these are important, but the ritual of swearing allegiance to both the USA and Texan flags seems pointless to him.
There is a scene where Mason ponders alienation. He describes the mechanical routines of everyday mundanity which people are forced to undergo in order to survive under capitalism. They then escape onto Facebook and remove themselves further from social interaction and their basic humanity.
Through all his hardship Mason is able to find solace in photography and even wins a scholarship to college, leading on to the next stages in his life. The movie ends with a fantastic scene of four newly befriended college roommates stoned in the mountains discussing how people don’t seize moments, but rather the moment seizes them.