The Good Eye: Boyhood, Girlhood, Personhood
Lorelei's girlhood in dad's Boyhood
The good news is that last week Republican congresswomen stood up to their male colleagues over a federal 20-week abortion ban that would only give a rape exception to the 32% of rapes that are reported to the police. The bad news is that apparently there aren't enough pro-choice Democrats left to screw in a lightbulb, much less block an anti-abortion bill.
We are a handful of Republican women away from a federal ban on a woman's right to choose, y'all. Send your grandmother a thank-you card. Write a graduation check to your niece in Campus Open Carry. Look up that sixth-grade teacher who taught you evolution was just a hotly contested theory. They all know how many rapes go unreported, and why. It's not a statistic for us; it's our friends' stories, our sisters' stories, our moms' stories. Our stories.
Women's stories change minds. Just ask Catholic congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who swelled the ranks of the pro-choice Dems by one last week. In his op-ed explaining why, Ryan simply cited women's stories, which he apparently listened to. As he now understands it, "There are too many scenarios, too many variables, and too much complexity for pregnancy to be anything but a personal decision."
Women's stories are the best tools we have for establishing women's personhood. So, how do we get people to listen?
As I type this, men are expressing their disgust over the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters; higher up the brow, a friend in an Ivy League MFA program fields questions from the next generation of blue-chip writers about why she keeps writing about women. And somewhere in between, there's Lorelei Linklater.
Lorelei Linklater was my favorite thing about Boyhood. The director's daughter played main character Mason's older sister, Samantha, from age 9 to 21. In the first half of the film, she burns and bristles onscreen, like bossy 9-year-old girls do before the world convinces them to feel embarrassed for existing. She reminds me of that childhood friend who always got to play Madonna when we all sang "True Blue" together. Samantha runs the world; when her family has to move, she tells a friend to email her everything that happens in their Girl Scouts troop, because "You're their leader now."
I was disappointed when, about an hour into the film, her character seemed to fade. I've read numerous interviews with Linklater fille that help explain why. As an outgoing little girl, she'd begged her dad to let her participate in the 12-year filming project. Props to Rick for being a Cool Dad and all, but it's safe to say most 9-year-olds wouldn't understand the scope of such a commitment. A few years into the project, Lorelei asked to be cut out of the film, perhaps even killed off. She says she was depressed for a few years, but later recovered her good feelings about the film – though she never burns as brightly in it again.
When she saw the film in college – where she's still a student – she cried all the way through it. In a Texas Standard interview that recently aired on KUT, she acknowledged that seeing her most awkward stages of adolescence onscreen was "mortifying," but went on to say she was bothered by "other things, too ... I don't know, gender roles?"
She brings up one conversation between Mason and a girl from his eighth-grade class. The girl, who is gutsy and kind, slows her bike to a roll next to Mason, who is a little bemused by her friendliness and exploratory flirting. When she sees that Mason is reading Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, she says, "I think my older brother likes him."
Lorelei gets a strange note in her voice talking about it. "I don't know, that just kind of struck me as, like, 'Kurt Vonnegut is for boys.' And I personally love Kurt Vonnegut, he's one of my favorite authors." She struggles for words: "That may not sound like it makes any sense."
It makes perfect sense to me. I read and loved Kurt Vonnegut in eighth grade. Either my older brother recommended it to me, or my older sister left a school copy of Slaughterhouse-Five lying around. I was a shameless reader of other people's carelessly butterflied books, from Stephen King to Shirley Jackson to Sweet Valley High. There is something strangely painful to me in the idea of a girl telling a boy what her brother likes to read. I guess what I'm saying is, any girl who gives a shit what her brother reads is reading the same things and forming her own opinions about them.
It's not the only time in the film Linklater fails to imagine a girl could have tastes or interests of her own. In one of Samantha's last scenes, a private conversation between Samantha and Mason's girlfriend, Linklater telegraphs to the audience that even though she's a college student living it up at UT, Samantha has nothing to say for herself, instead bubbling over with excitement to share what her boyfriend of three months is studying.
Apparently Linklater thinks "girl talk" is when co-eds get together and gab like PTA moms about their boyfriends' majors. No word on what Samantha – you know, the character we've known since the age of 9? – cares about. (Her endorsement of dorm life? "I've never seen so many cute guys in one place before.") As for Sheena, her character is a walking pair of cheekbones whose preference for another guy over Mason will soon confirm this viewer's suspicion that her true purpose was to provide perfectly dewy lips and expensive-looking blow-outs for Mason to photograph.
I get it, and I'm sure Lorelei does, too; Boyhood is about boyhood. There were films about girlhood too last year, including Céline Sciamma's Girlhood and Lukas Moodysson's exhilarating We Are the Best!, which gives its ferocious trio of heroines every drop of personhood denied Samantha. Neither is making much of a splash this awards season. Wonder why.