The Tao of Boyhood

I have no idea what Tao is. I’ve read the Tao te Ching, which says “the tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.” I suppose that means my confusion must make me an expert. After finishing the short, strange book my best guess that Tao is something like the mystery of life, which is harder to grasp the more you try to do just that.

This came to mind last night when I watched the utterly unique movie Boyhood.  Filmed over 12 years, the viewer watches a boy and his sister (played by the director’s daughter) grow into adulthood. The story itself I think was good, and well acted. Trying to compress so many years into 2 hours and 45 minutes necessarily meant that in some scenes characters needed to unload quite a bit of exposition, which was sometimes awkward. Still, I was totally along for the ride, even with the long running time.

It was a completely mind blowing watching the kids age year after year, completely unlike anything I have ever seen. I am a fan of the Up series, which starting at age 7 interviewed a group of kids every 7 years, with 56 Up, released in 2012, being the latest addition. However, there is something reassuring about the jarring 7 year gaps between interviews. It seems to break time into a series of steps, instead of the steady, incessant march of time in Boyhood. The thing about traveling on stairs is that you choose when to take a step and can linger on a stair as long as you want. In Boyhood…the “slippery slope” cliché, and all of the loss of control that implies, comes to mind.

That’s where Tao comes in, at least in my limited (and therefore perfect) understanding of it. What could possibly be more banal than the observation that kids grow up? Yet watching it in this condensed form felt profound. I can’t possibly explain it, but it felt like bearing witness to the mystery of life itself.