Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" tells the story of a boy, Mason, and as much as the title articulates our applying his story somewhat to all boys, the "chapel" within advises caution. Since Mason's biological father is a major influence on the boy, it's not quite fair to slough off his inspiration -- Lennon, Paul, George and Ringo -- as "divinities" to seek greatness from, but it's clear what has clearly replaced the trio of God, Christ and church in this film is the university, and the supreme research psychologists who've worked there to incur relevant understandings of what makes human beings tick.
Behavioralism is the first psychological theory we hear discussed, and it's all but rejected in the film ... not only because it's mouthpiece turns out an alcoholic, wife-beating, dictatorial brute, but because it's clearly linked to a cynical take on human beings and ultimately corrupt societal applications -- like the irresistible dopamine hits corporations know we receive when people "like" us, that Mason references as part of his dislike of popular culture. We hear of John Bowlby's "attachment theory" next, from Mason's mother, and the implications of his theory aren't to take all human beings as essentially the same but to imagine a cut -- only not that of boys and girls.
According to the theory, if you were a well-attached infant and child, of either sex, so long as your society's not prohibitive, the future's open to you. If you weren't -- you'll be insecure, plagued by demons, who won't amount any significant adventure into life ... one of Harlow's distraught, self-isolated monkeys, who knew too little of their mother's breast. Since children can be suckled close more as a source of nurturance for the parent, however, being well-attached isn't necessarily a matter of time spent. More if they truly loved you, rather than from the start, immediately began to reject and even hate you.
The interesting thing about this film, helped out by the setting which is somewhere in Texas ... a state which in some parts is a "high-tech, social democracy", and in others, a "Protestant fundamentalist taliban," is that you could take the same "facts" in the life of this boy and show two very different fates -- one that leads to a well-adjusted adult with a bright future, and another as him part of those shortchanging any such a bright and beautiful thing. All depending on whether or not the primary caregivers in his life wasn't compelled or unconsciously intent to abandon her children.
The first fact we are introduced to about Mason's life, is that his parents are recently divorced, and that his mother has decided to uproot him and his sister further by retreating from their first self-acquired home, back to her mother. But in the film, the mother's intent throughout is portrayed as mostly loving ... and so as much we are directed to note that this move will cost Mason his very first best friend, who in all likelihood he'll never see again, and how his older sister plants herself heavily against the move as if moved by the most basic elements of her, shaking her into saying something strong lest their young organism is requited into something that can't be recovered from, we know it's something that's maybe probably best in that her mother's difficulties in keeping their family afloat will be greatly eased by the move, and she'll be able to attend to them subsequently in less of a harried and more of a focused manner.
The mother gets her children back into a home that'll allow them each their own space, their own rooms, and has provisioning enough for herself now to go to college. There, like any new student entranced by the opened world of knowledge -- and therefore further entranced by those familiar with it, she crushes on a professor, which for her develops into marriage. Unfortunately, however wonderful his world not just of knowledge but of palatial affluence is -- his home is a McMansion, spared our contemporary derogatory assessment of them as homes for those who borrowed much but were doomed back to "pumpkinhood" once the investment world sobered -- it turns out home life with him means sequestering all of them to a litany of constant rules, of lines not to be crossed, and herself, also, to the occasional beating. Again harried with stress over this -- of innocently having inflicted this man on her children, and not quite knowing if departure or weathering-through is the wise solution -- she doesn't quite acknowledge Mason's complaints about him, doing her best to pretend homage to the idea that ... "we all have our faults."
But when he grossly grabs Mason and forces him into a military cut of his longish hair, her true feelings are expressed, without any resolve not to upset the perpetrator and raise family stakes by placing herself on one side only. And when he gets close to physically harming her children, smashing plates and glasses before them -- he's done. Mason's mother assembles the required phalanx of guard-women to block him, while she grabs her children, and off they're again to a refreshed life.
Mason's adolescent life is mostly made to seem about plenty of harmless experimentation ... which'll lead to smart sifting and targeted development as he enters young adulthood and university. He does booze, drugs; experiments with dress. He knows being bullied, but also hanging with older boys whose talk is macho and who play with "knives." And though it isn't him who asks the if-your-so-cool-why-are-you-hanging-out-with-grade-8ers-on-a-friday-night?, it's implicit as well in his overall manner with them: they have no affect. He dates women, and seems already to possess naturally the genuine interest in them as individuals his biological father advises him to learn quick to separate himself from the pack. His childhood interest in spray painting, forging a signature, branches into an interest in finding a vision through photography, which stakes him purpose and resolve, and also impressed elders, who want to attach themselves to his promise as he eventually leaves home for university.
On the cusp of departure, his mother breaks down and admits how his leaving seems to mean her own life is over; but he's allowed his retort, as he mostly always is with her, and it's to explain the clear absurdity of what she is saying. His mother is completely for his own adventure, however, and so while promise is abundant as he first experiences his life there, it's shallow of guilt.
But if she wasn't attached to her children, if she meant to hurt, harm, or abandon them, the film would have veered ... like this. The divorce from her husband would have been paired with her retreat from her independent life/home, in that both would meant abandoning the pretensions to a good life-partner and a new beginning away from her own mother: self-realization and pleasure. Her ex-husband, who is treated defensively when he arrives to see his kids, and who is to some extent blocked away by the grandmother, is revealed as the film goes along to have been a vastly better man than any of the others she subsequently marries, as well as being a much better person to have had around their kids. But she didn't feel she could keep him because she felt under compulsion to sacrifice her first start, bring her kids around her mother's orbit, so her mother wouldn't get angry at her for making herself the centre; for aspiring to greater happiness than her mother allowed herself. Late post-partum, with kids given/sacrificed to her mother so she could be spared terrible hauntings of seeing herself driving them into a lake.
She would have been revealed to have been attracted to the psychology professor, already sensing he would treat her brutally ... his talk of flashing meat powder before a dog to make it salivate, an anticipation of how he'd possess a belittling and all-knowing sense of the motives of children, whipping children into shape through rewards and punishments. The freedom-killing home life he instituted, would have been something she's wished for her children, so that aspects of herself, projected onto the children, that she felt required containing -- actually great things, like one's desire to explore and grow -- would have found themselves stifled and bound up. When Mason came to her and complained of him, she wouldn't have shown underneath obvious sympathy but only the refusal: how selfish of you to only see a person's flaws!
Adolescence wouldn't just have been about exploration, but showed more genuine signs of troubles, delinquency, as his mother spent most of her time at university and home life was dominated by a thug. His interest in hanging out with older boys who pretend ninja, would have been him wanting to distance himself from his aloneness and vulnerability. The fact that they were all boys and cast all girls as "whores," would have been an attraction ... a homosexual shell against the rest of the world. The painting of his finger nails wouldn't, then, have shown femininity, but interest in approbating the power of the maternal. His ear-piercing, a fascination in self-cutting ... where control of pain is clearly yours. His dark worldview wouldn't have shown he wasn't a fool for corporate manipulation, but that the only way he intuited he could allow himself to participate in adult freedoms is if tainted that terrain with gloom beforehand.
But even that wouldn't prove sufficient for much subsequent adult license, because his mother would have wanted to know that his abandoning her for university meant he was bad -- guilty. And so after enjoying some time self-actualizing in university, he'd eventually be with those others who first enjoyed liberality before renouncing it thereafter for conservatism -- the fiercely conservative taliban, everywhere, who's leaders so often knew for a time American licence before garbing themselves back into caves and no running water.
And so in this version, if the film was rather released in 2015/16, it wouldn't have shown him helping out the next democratic option but punching Rand Paul signs into other people's lawns. His due would be to be with all those other poorly attached, insufficiently loved, "Texan" boys, who've become problem number one for the other lot, fighting for a chance of more hope in the world.