Polarization is the name of the game now in America, particularly in Washington with its fierce partisan fights over the social issues. That's not where most of us spend most of our time. Linklater reckons that many people grow up like he did, even if not in Texas, but with sensibilities of right and wrong similar to those he absorbed in shades of gray with occasional splotches of color, testimony to infinite variety -- some good, some not so good.
"Boyhood" is a coming-of-age of a boy, but it's the story of a family, too. In the heat of their youthful discovery of sex, his mother and father conceived a daughter and a son, but how each parent met the responsibility of raising the children changed them, too. This is generational change with more empathy than anger, more warmth than rebellion.
We get realistic insights into the lopsided challenges of divorce. Mason's single mother assumes the heavy lifting both at home and at work, while his single father is the jolly paternal playmate on weekends. The responsibilities are uneven, but so are the satisfactions. In a revelatory moment, after Mason's high school graduation, the father tells his mother what a good job of raising him she has done. The moment is neither sentimental nor a feminist rhetorical device, but a sensitive recognition of the differences in nurture and nature. In middle age his father becomes the man that Mason's mother had wanted him to be when he arrived on the scene in a flashy Pontiac GTO. He drives a minivan with his second family.
This is social politics told across the generations, up close and personal. Richard Linklater calls it a shame that the liberals dismissed the affections and loyalty of Southern white people over "the cultural divide of religion and guns." Bridging the divide requires "a little bit of understanding." He offers more than a little bit in "Boyhood."