We saw a new movie over the weekend with themes that could be described as “anti-engineering”- not against engineering per se, but representative of a culture and approach that is sort of the opposite of how engineers think and feel.

The movie is called “Boyhood”.  It chronicles the life of a boy growing up in Texas.  The movie takes place over a twelve year period.  What is unique and astonishing about the movie is that it was filmed over twelve years, a week at a time each year.  The actors all age twelve years during the episodes of the movie.  The adult actors get older during this period, but it is most noticeable for the young actors, especially the lead character who started off at age 7 and completed filming at age 19. 

It was audacious for anyone to even attempt to make such a film, considering the long list of what could go wrong over 12 years.  But the result is very successful and intense.  According to Rotten Tomatoes, it is even better reviewed that the Lego Movie.

The boy in “Boyhood” will probably not grow up to be an engineer.  He is depicted as an artsy dreamer, a student who usually doesn’t turn in his homework and is more interested in hanging out in a dark room developing photographs than attending class. During the movie, we witness a series of intimate but mundane episodes that provide a patchwork of his coming of age.  Nothing substantial really happens in this film.  There are no superheroes and little melodramatics.  At the end, the boy leaves home and arrives at college. On the first day, he ditches orientation and goes hiking with his new college roommate in the wilderness of Big Bend National Park.  At sunset in stark rock landscape, he tells a new friend:  “It’s like it’s always right now.” 

In other words, live in the present.

Engineering thought and the engineering process are  based on learning from the past and meticulously planning for the future.  In a sense, appreciating the present is not part of the design criteria.  In that way, “Boyhood” is an anti-engineering movie.  But it is a marvel and a thing to see.  Engineers are invited to take a few hours break from type studies, calculations and analysis to go see it.  Although we are not quite sure what they do, non-engineers are important people too, and the beautiful film provides for us a close portrait of a young non-engineer and his world.