Monday, September 8, 2014

Father's Days with Richard Linklater

Yesterday was Father's Day in Australia.

Yep, fathers gotta be different over here. Mothers don't; they celebrate Mother's Day on the exact same date as in the U.S. (They just get to that date some 15 hours earlier.) I figure the reason behind moving Father's Day to September ("moving," because I assume the holiday was invented in the U.S. and then applied elsewhere) is to avoid having it fall in winter. Seasons technically begin on the 1st of the month here (rather than the 21st as in the northern hemisphere), so come June 1st, it's technically winter. This means that September 1st is technically spring, and September 7th is the first Sunday after September 1st.

I was in Australia last Australian Father's Day -- had been for about two weeks -- but I didn't celebrate it because I'd already celebrated American Father's Day in 2013. My wife gave me the option of which one I wanted to celebrate this year, and I went for the September date. I mean, who wants to celebrate Father's Day in winter?

A movie was obviously going to be involved in some capacity, and here's where I inadvertently established a Father's Day viewing pattern. You see, in 2012, I claimed a couple hours at home by myself as a Father's Day present, and used that time to watch Richard Linklater's Slacker (see post here). Two years later -- er, two years and three months later -- I again spent the time with Mr. Linklater by watching Boyhood, which only just (finally) opened here on Thursday.

I'm not sure if Dick Link will have another movie out by either Father's Day in 2015, so maybe I can watch, I don't know, The Newton Boys.

In all seriousness, though, there's something kind of appropriate about Mr. Linklater on a day in which you're considering family bonds between the generations, and deeply contemplating in general. Slacker gets the "deeply contemplating in general" part down, but I probably only had some vague sense going in how much Boyhood would be about the relationship between this boy and, well, both his parents, really.

Ellar Coltrane's Mason has three father figures in Boyhood, actually -- his biological father, Mason Sr. (played by Ethan Hawke), and his mother's two attempts to replace him (Bill, played by Marco Parella, and Jim, played by Brad Hawkins). In many respects, it's a story about how Mason is failed by all three of these men -- fortunately, to a lesser extent by his father than by the two surrogates, but in some ways to a greater extent, because this was the man who was originally assigned the role and whose failure necessitated the existence of the two inferior facsimiles.

But what I really appreciated this Father's Day was a reminder of just how much a mother does -- and never gets credit for. There's been some discussion about why the scenes in Boyhood were the specific scenes chosen for inclusion -- and I'm not simply talking about the most basic logical argument that "those are the scenes Linklater shot with his cast for the short time he had them available to him each year." Let's for a moment treat Boyhood as though it were a conventional film and that Linklater had a perfect idea of which scenes he planned to shoot, and why, way back when he started in 2002. Who knows, he may have.

One idea is that the scenes are the ones Mason himself considers important either as he looks back on the past dozen years of his life, or as he's going through them in real time. If this is the case, it becomes even more useful to look at the ways he values the scenes with Hawke, an absent father he kind of idolizes, and those with Patricia Arquette, a present mother who is taken for granted. Mason "remembers," as it were, going bowling with his dad, or going to a Houston Astros game, or going camping. With his mother, he only "remembers" boring, mundane, around-the-house stuff that is mired in "have to" rather than "want to." By flaking out, going off to Alaska to try to find himself, and even starting a new family, Hawke earned a kind of mythical status with his young son. By making sacrifices in her life to give him a healthy and stable childhood -- or trying her best to do so, anyway -- Arquette is remembered only as some kind of functional provider, one who never represented anything like fun to her son.

I suspect this is a role a mother has to play all too often. Even when fathers are physically present, like I am to my children, there's an essentially lazy part of us that tries to do "the easy work" -- goofing around with the kids, doing silly voices, etc. The true, hard work of parenting is something only the mother has the maturity to undertake, knowing she will never be rewarded for it -- knowing that if she doesn't do it, no one will.

So on (the day after) this Father's Day, I would like to thank Richard Linklater for reminding me of the ways I can truly earn a day in my own honor -- which is by doing the hard parts of parenting, in addition to the easy ones.

By, in essence, being more like a mother.

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