The Essence of Cinema: Exploring Richard Linklater's Relationship with Film & Time

Richard LinklaterVery few filmmakers manage to capture the very essence of cinema, the definition of which has tortured the minds of so many great classical film theorists. Is it art? Is it reality? Is it expression? Is it impression? To me, its essence is time. BFI's Sight and Sound beautifully ponders director Richard Linklater's romance with cinema and time in a short video essay, which reflects on the temporal bond of his films, which are less sequential still images of captured light than poetic soliloquies about existence, about life -- about time.

Time is everything to cinema. When we see a film up on the big screen, chances are we're not seeing 2 hours of uninterrupted seconds; it's edited down. Time is manipulated. It's controlled. And in the end, it's what we capture, as well as what we experience.

Filmmakers like Linklater have grasped and obsessed over the depiction, interpretation, and expression of time -- how it passes and how people respond to it passing. His Before series (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight) is an excellent example of this, because, not only do we see the characters Jesse and Celine age over the course of nearly 20 years, but as Jesse says, and Sight and Sound explains, there is "poetry" in the mundanity of life: sleeping, cooking, working, tying your shoes and looking in the mirror.

It's a direct counterargument to that saccharine quote that's on every college girl's dorm room corkboard: "Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away." No, Linklaters filmmaking sensibility would argue that the true beauty of life isn't found in the breathtaking, but in the taking of breaths -- every single one.

The grandest way Linklater could have invited his audience to experience this idea of time is through growing up and growing old with his characters in the Before series. Truffaut did it with Antoine Doinel (who some say represents the director's alter ego), spanning 20 years from 400 Blows to Love on the Run.

The connection between we, the viewers, and them, the characters, becomes personal, naturally, because as we grow older and change, they do, too. As filmmakers, though we don't necessarily have to follow Linklater's or Truffaut's model of having recurring characters, we can learn from their ideas that time, or moments, are the "building blocks" of cinema. As Sight and Sound so eloquently puts it, Linklater's films are an "ongoing conversation with cinema, which is to say, a conversation about time passing."

Feeling existential? What do you think about Richard Linklater's filmmaking sensibility in terms of representations of time?

Link: The long conversation: Richard Linklater on cinema and time -- BFI

[via Vimeo]

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Your Comment


I think he is a master at time representation. And often it aligns with the character arc of the character. What makes this the most compelling is that it is not driven by necessarily one single event, rather it is a gradual climb. This is harder to do than say one definite event that defines an arc. I enjoy his films because as you noted, it feels personal.


December 7, 2013 at 8:06AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Man, I love Linklater as an artist: always so humble and approachable, yet supremely confident in his craft. His films simply make you feel good afterward—more intelligent and appreciative, I believe—all while he quietly pushes the boundaries of the cinema experience.

The interesting thing is I've never directly thought of Linklater in these terms until now; he's always simply been Richard Linklater, the guy who is limitless in what he experiments with. But you're right: save Apted and Truffaut, there really has been no other filmmaker quite like Linklater in their audacious exploration of the passing of time.

And that's not even to mention his upcoming film Boyhood yet. Crafting a full feature film around a young boy's life by revisiting it every year to shoot new scenes? That's simply unparalleled—and monumentally bold for a filmmaker. Granted, movies as an art form movies take a relatively long time to make—and sometimes an even longer time to develop—but almost no other filmmaker has attempted to push the limits quite like this. Whereas others end up showcasing relatively all of their artistic skill on the screen, Linklater, Apted, and Truffaut all have a skill that you won't actually "see" on screen: they have an ability for patience.

Jeez. Just thinking about that, especially in comparison to other art forms, *really* makes me appreciate these guys.

December 7, 2013 at 9:02AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


(All of that sounded better in my head, by the way. I really have to stop writing things on my phone, where I don't have the ability to step back and look at things as a whole...)

December 7, 2013 at 9:10AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Tsai Ming-liang has cast Lee Kang-sheng as the main character in every feature film he has made over the past 21 years. He plays a variation of the same character every time. It's very odd watching him age over the course of the films. Tsai admits to being heavily influenced by Truffaut's work with Jean-Pierre Leaud. He even casts Leaud (who plays a character called Antoine) in his 2009 film Visage.
Can't wait to see Boyhood too. Linklater really is a treasure!

December 8, 2013 at 1:44PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


What a wonderful article. More of this, please!

Linklater is an amazing filmmaker. He manages to convey the "nowness" of existence into his films.

December 7, 2013 at 10:01AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I'm digging it! Music goes so perfect with the Dialogue. Great Message!

December 7, 2013 at 10:27AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM



December 8, 2013 at 10:38AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Micah Van Hove

Linklater is a genius.. A true master of art. I've personally had long conversations with people who dislike his work, basically, in my opinion, because they refuse to understand it because of it's truthfulness. Like scientists who eek ever closer to the realisation that they can't quantify infinity…..

December 13, 2013 at 6:13PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


! SPOILER ALERT !I love the scene in boyhood where the mother has breakdown and exclaims - "I thought there would be more!" - Perfect example of living in the future and past and ignoring the present - those breaths the article speaks of are the in the now which is essentially the most important message of his films as well as life itself. The film concludes with Mason understanding that you cant seize the moment " the moment seizes us" Great stuff!

September 28, 2015 at 10:10AM, Edited September 28, 10:15AM