Director Richard Linklater insists he wasn't making any grand political statements with his latest film, “Boyhood.”
“We’re doing a period piece, but we’re shooting it in the present moment,” he says from a Washington hotel, discussing his most ambitious experiment to date. “We don’t know the future.”
Shot between the summer of 2002 and last fall, using the same actors and filming for a few days each year, "Boyhood" presents the growth of a child from 6 years old to puberty and finally, his first days in college.
Though the story is devoted to the gradual evolution of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), his parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) and older sister, played by Linklater’s real-life daughter, Lorelei, the movie is really more of a time capsule — one the Texan concedes has a “political undercurrent.”
Hawke's character rails against George W. Bush's “big lie" as a news clip details Blackwater security guards hanging from a Fallujah bride in 2003, he posts Obama yard signs in deep-red Texas ahead of the 2008 election -- an enthusiasm that wanes in later years -- and gives his daughter a safe-sex talk by evoking Bristol Palin.
As with the movie’s snapshots of pop culture and technology, the trip down a not-so-distant memory lane serves as a reminder of the zaniness of U.S. politics during the last decade.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Linklater discussed the political undertones of “Boyhood” -- out next Friday in the Washington area -- the big personalities of elected leaders in his home state of Texas and perhaps most importantly to his fans, whether his much-acclaimed “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” films will ever get released on Blu-ray.
Washington Examiner: How concerned were you with capturing the political mood of the 2000s?
Linklater: This whole movie is set in the real world. I grew up during the Vietnam era, so there was always a war in the background my whole life. Now there's a generation again that's going to know nothing but their country at war. My daughter basically, who is 21 now, just think what a large percentage of her life -- of her conscious life -- is, "we're at war."
Examiner: Ethan Hawke’s character is a huge Obama supporter around the 2008 election but then he tones it down in the later years. What happened?
Linklater: There’s nothing like a new family and a kid to pull you out of the realm of having the time to go do yard signs. It’s kind of charming to see a guy in his 30s have that youthful enthusiasm. So it’s kind of funny he still cares about stuff.
Examiner: Do you think it’s Obama fatigue or just a less optimistic view of what our leaders can accomplish?
Linklater: I've been around just long enough to catch that roller coaster ride. Remember Clinton '92 -- ohhh, that's me -- and then uhhh. You just sense it in the culture. I'm a Texan. Bush goes to the White House, and then you know, maybe we'll just ride this out with a little less enthusiasm. A lot of it's just this naive thought that one person in one office … is going to transform all of society and make you feel better about everything. That's never happened or gonna happen.
Examiner: You seemed to poke fun at both sides. There’s the starry-eyed Obama supporter who says, “I have these dreams when I’m just kissing him,” and then the other extreme, which shall we call, less enthused?
Linklater: It was fun to capture that moment, as it was real. The guy across the street [in the Obama yard sign scene] who’s like hey, "Do I look like a Barack Hussein Obama supporter?" It’s a big football game. You’re for one side or the other.
Examiner: Do you get wrapped up in Washington at all?
Linklater: I wish I didn’t. I can tell my own mental health if I’m watching a lot of cable news. If I’m flipping around and I’m really digging in on some issues, that just means I’m more depressed than usual. I do struggle with it, like everybody.
Examiner: Since you’re so tied to the Long Star State, what is it about Texas politicians? They’re rarely boring.
Linklater: What is it about Texas? Ted Cruz had an effect on this movie. We had all our locations in the national park at the end -- Big Bend. We went out there, and it's closed. The government is shut down. We're like, [expletive]. My own senator has shut down my location. We had to go to the state park.
Examiner: A few years in, did you ever question whether “Boyhood” was worth it?
Linklater: I’m like the president in his sixth or seventh year. Should I just resign? You can’t. You just can’t even think that way as the leader. I was so happy to have the opportunity to explore what felt like a new canvas. It was all fun.
Examiner: Did you know how the story would end?
Linklater: I had the last shot in mind really early on. I didn’t have the exact dialogue written for it but knew where it was going. I’m a big structure guy. I’ve basically replaced plot with structure to some degree. I’m trying to get to the way the mind works or the way we process time, the way a day flows or life flows. This movie was a rare opportunity to explore that, how time feels.
Examiner: Have you ever thought of doing a Washington movie?
Linklater: Who isn’t intrigued [by Washington]? I’ve had some very political films that I didn’t get off the ground. They’re hard to get financed. Maybe cable is the right place.
Examiner: On a final, selfish note, when are we getting “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” Blu-rays?
Linklater: A movie has to be big enough to warrant going back and making a Blu-Ray of it. Remember when it was VHS and not all films jumped to DVD? The lesser titles are just kind of lost. I guarantee you, though, within, probably a year or two, they'll be a triple box set (including "Before Midnight," already on Blu-ray).