Cinematic cosmic zoom

Boyhood
Starring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater; directed by Richard Linklater

Lucy
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked; directed by Luc Besson

The reflective evolutionary timeline of Boyhood and Lucy:

At the ending, there’s the big flash of light as one exits the darkened theater into bright sunshine. The lingering effects of the films just witnessed maintain their propulsory euphoric effects as one makes the expansive trek to the outer reaches of the parking lot.


The filmic particles bounce around the space between the ears and cause one to reflect on humans evolving through time. Each movie particle has its own unique momentum — one’s about the main character ricocheting through life, and the other’s leaping from event to event in a linear trajectory.

Measuring the separate filmic particles by their enjoyment quotient at this point in time produces exclamations of appreciation and joy at what the cinematic arts are capable of revealing about the poignancy of everyday life, the human capacity to learn and evolve as it grows into the universe, and to encounter and overcome obstacles.

These respective particles seem to occupy the same space being both familiar to anyone who has followed a similar life trajectory, while also imagining what it would be like to exceed one’s limitations of perceiving the subtle, imperceptible physical and mental progressions that occur during the unceasing march of time.

As the hot allure of the cinematic particles fill the space in the mind, they regrettably begin to cool and slow taking on similarities with what’s seen in everyday cinematic matters. While these don’t detract from the overall amazing effect, they do begin to cohere into the familiar. For example, one particle uses established actors (albeit performing admirably) to tell an ostensibly realistic story of growing up in a middle class environment using other heretofore unknown non-actors. And the other particle uses action/chase modalities as a backdrop to its more involving story about pushing the limits of human mental capacities.

As the cooling continues, other standard model behaviors and phenomena express themselves and become apparent. One particle exhibits the behavior of unappreciated parents that can be glimpsed in so many coming of age sagas, while the other — becoming imbued with superpowers from the unwitting release of illicit substances sewed into its feminine body — possesses the exceedingly familiar and wholly implausible comicbook ability to manipulate matter at will.

Then, certain heavy elements begin to crystallize and settle out, like the brooding mordancy that is tiredly typified by introspective nerds, the ever-replicated comicbook depiction of vengeance by villains and heroes instead of the anti-matter focus on using one’s special powers for higher purposes, the repetitive tracks of nagging parents and the predictable annoyance of an older sister, the sigh-inducing scientific technobabble when presented with the unnatural ability to tap into and employ more than the usual 10 percent of one’s mental potentialities.

Amidst these individual sparks of critical thought, swirling clouds of doubt begin to coalesce into spinning discs of heavy matters like the pedantically predictability of possessing a distant biological father who’s cool, hip and childlike while the closer orbits of stepfathers are customarily alcoholic, disciplinarian and unstable. And there’s the disappointing focus of enhanced abilities being exclusively used to discern technological phenomena instead of providing insight into natural, biological systems.

Out of these clouds emerge the sorts of elemental perspectives we experience in everyday cinematic matters. These familiar narrative shapes take form of struggling to find oneself, whether to go to college, finding a soul mate, suffering through menial jobs, and getting in trouble. And of course there are the corresponding big shootouts with bad guys, dazzlingly effective special effects, narrow escapes, close calls, the belief that mere humans can still manage to vanquish overwhelmingly mysterious powers, and overall goofiness.

As the cinematic matter collides and coheres, some truly unfortunate dynamics are ejected like depictions of the tediously typical ultraconservative older familial generations, and the fact that superhuman mental powers must always merge with human technological hardware instead of some ethereal, spiritual or biological construct.

And still time’s arrow moves ever forward. After what seems like eons of such unsettling thoughts, small glimmers of life emerge. Through all the clumsiness and messiness of creation and existence, the cinematic particles still manage to exhibit unique qualities that enthrall as they evolve and grow, becoming ever more involving and intriguing.

That life and liveliness continues to morph and change into ever more compellingly watchable narratives. As these particles become more complex and mature, they strive to understand the meaning of existence, and how and why to use the powers it has been given.

Although these thoughts and experiences are familiar, watching the progression of these two cinematic particles as they move through time and space is never boring — they keep our attention and maintain our curiosity just like the continued effort to understand our evolving universe and the human species within it.
But then, like a bolt of lightning, we realize that someone — some creative “god particle” — actually fashioned these cinematic particles from their own imaginings. The mind boggles.

Doug Young, an award-winning film critic, is the Senior Policy Director in Governor John Hickenlooper’s Office of Policy and Research.