I don’t remember how old my sister was when I gave her a DVD box set of Unsolved Mysteries for her birthday. It was somewhere in her early twenties. I’ve never felt two years younger than my sister. I always felt much younger. That’s probably because I’m the youngest of three, out of her and my brother. I was never expected to take situations under my own command. I learned to observe and have gifts credited to me, when in actuality, I had nothing to do with the purchase. There was an assumption that acting like an adult was beyond me, the perpetual baby. But for that particular birthday, the Unsolved Mystery birthday, I really did want to make an effort. I wanted to show that I cared very much about my sister. The specifics escape me. Maybe it was because I had seen her pass out one morning that summer, due to medical conditions basically unexplained to me. (Or they were explained and I ignored the explanation because my brain said she’s OK now and that’s all that matters) Maybe that was the reason. I bought the Unsolved Mysteries set because I thought it was interesting. An interesting choice. An interesting gift. But I didn’t care about those motivations. I really just wanted her to see that I was an interesting person. That her little brother had some strange esoteric beliefs and that if she could see the unsolved mysteries of the world through my eyes by using her eyes, she would know me better. I was giving a piece of myself. I was thinking only of myself.
The same way Ethan Hawke’s Dad character in ‘Boyhood’ was thinking when he gave his son Mason a burnt CD collection of the Beatles’ prime post breakup single work as a birthday gift. Dad relates very well to Mason most times, despite only being able to see him every other weekend. They can talk about girls and Star Wars. But Mason just doesn’t feel his father’s connection to music. While bound for a campsite when Mason is twelve, his father attempts to describe the beauty of a Wilco song called ‘Hate it Here.’ Dad has basically lived the lyrical content of ‘Hate it Here,’ attempting to keep his apartment clean (without help from Jimmy, his roommate) even though his girl won’t come back. She won’t ever come back. Dad talks about the way the song was recorded, expressing deep admiration for the old school stylistic choices made by the band and the producer. Perhaps the close relation of the lyrics to his own living conditions, as a struggling, divorced musician, hit him subconsciously. Maybe when song speaks to us, a musical love takes over. A silver lining love that transcends the pain of our present circumstance and transports us to less individualistic thoughts. In that sense, to dad, music and family are the same. He has no choice but to pursue music.
Mason seems confused by what his father feels for the song. He’s confused because his father has made an assumption that his son can automatically speak the language of music. The scene is a precursor to the birthday present sequence. Mason has joined his father, sister, and dad’s new wife for a trip to see her parents. The trip coincides with his birthday. Mason is older now, fifteen. His second and final stepfather gave him a camera. Small moments. Dad’s mild approval of photography as a passion during a conversation with the stepfather, Jim. At least he’s into something. But why not music, we can sense him thinking to himself. Small moments. Mason’s uncomfortable grinning at being given the collection his father called The Black Album. Mason showing more emotion earlier in the conversation because his father sold the car that should have been his. (the GTO whose speakers blared the Wilco) Small moments. Mason managing to show appreciation for the gift but still the confused passenger. To me the gift said, I love you, I want you to have this piece of me, and all the good things in that piece live in you. Love is an Unsolved mystery, like the place where insecurity and family come together to dance reality into being.