Toward the end of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood protagonist Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) drives alone in his pick-up through a desert landscape. He is on his way to college for the first time. At a gas station mid-trip Mason pulls out his camera and takes pictures of objects around him: a rusty lantern; a red fire hydrant; a broken traffic signal. The song “Hero” plays over top the sequence: “Let me go. I don’t wanna be your hero. I don’t wanna be a big man.”
This song by Family of the Year provides a moving and melancholic contrast to an otherwise annoying thematic refrain on heroism that appears throughout the film. In particular the heroic traits of responsibility and ambition are trumpeted by numerous characters—and not always in a positive manner. Early in the film Olivia (Patricia Arquette) complains about the fact that responsibility to her children necessitates the sacrifice of her own personal desires. She has taken the difficult and often unpleasant path forsaken by the kids’ irresponsible absentee father (Ethan Hawke). Other characters that harp to Mason on responsibility, ambition, duty, and discipline include Olivia’s second husband Bill (Marco Perella), her third husband Jim (Brad Hawkins), Mason’s photography teacher Mr. Turlington (Tom McTigue), and Mason’s boss at the restaurant Mr. Wood (Richard Robichaux).
Mason, however, marches to a different and perhaps less ambitious or disciplined drummer. His is an artistic sensibility which lives in the moment and values the experience of beauty over self-advancement and muscular achievement. In other words, the dictates by which he lives are those of his heart and not those of heroes or “big men.”
His orientation toward life, then, is marked by a natural preference for being over doing. This preference is most evident in the closing lines of the film. Foregoing freshman orientation Mason sits outside in Big Bend National Park next to Nicole (Jessi Mechler, pictured above) who as a dancer shares Mason’s artistic sensibility. She says to him, “You know how everyone’s always saying ‘seize the moment?’ I don’t know—I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around. You know, like, the moment seizes us.” Mason looks at the beautiful landscape around them and replies, “Yeah. Yeah I know. It’s constant. The moment—it’s like it’s always right now.” How the present moment contributes to future gain is not their concern. For Mason and Nicole the one true gain can only be found here and now.
Their shared philosophic rapture is matched by the ecstatic union experienced by their companions Dalton (Maximillian McNamara) and Barb (Taylor Weaver). The latter couple stands off at a distance howling like coyotes toward the heavens. For the four friends the beauty of the moment has unfolded into an experience of wholeness and harmony with nature.
Psychologically, the innate preference of Mason and his friends for introspection, creativity, harmony, and openness to the present moment corresponds to the INFP typological designation in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Evolving out of Jung’s writing on typology, MBTI often takes the form of a computer questionnaire given in a manner similar to that described in the scene from Boyhood mentioned last month. INFP stands for introverted intuitive feeling perceiving.
In Compass of the Soul: Archetypal Guides to a Fuller Life Jungian analyst John Giannini also characterizes INFP as right-brained, feminine, and tender-minded or tender-hearted. He calls the INFP the sensitive soul. These qualities are evident in Mason’s tendency to daydream, his hairstyle and fingernail polish, his photographs centered on feelings and the feminine, and his sometimes gloomy disposition. What is described above as artistic sensibility is his soulful sensitivity.
Opposite INFP is ESTJ, or extraverted sensing thinking judging. People who identify with this type tend to be outwardly assertive, value hard facts and concrete reality over imagination, and possess a black-and-white sense of right and wrong. They are task-oriented, disciplined, and duty-bound. Their soul is that of the warrior or hero. The examples from Boyhood noted in the second paragraph exhibit ESTJ traits which Giannini also describes as left-brained, masculine, and tough-minded.
The juxtaposition between ESTJ and INFP energies in the film brings to mind the following statement from Jung: “Therein lies the social significance of art: it is constantly at work educating the spirit of the age, conjuring up the forms in which the age is most lacking.” (CW 15: 130). With Boyhood Richard Linklater beautifully educates the spirit of this age. As evidenced by bullying, performance enhancing drugs, substance abuse, and religious and cultural fundamentalism, our collective temperament has become overbearing and even pathological in its heroism. What the hero lacks and most desperately needs is not more or better heroism but the healing presence of the sensitive soul.
Note: The above two-part post expands on ideas found in my film review of Boyhood published in Psychological Perspectives: a quarterly journal of Jungian thought, Vol 58: Issue 2, 2015. Deeper exploration of this material has taken the form of two-hour lectures given here and here.