+ Recommended – R, Biography, Drama (115 minutes)
Gay conversion therapy is a sin. Unfortunately it still remains prevalent in today’s culture as there are many states that haven’t outright banned the pseudoscientific practice as of today. People often wonder why literature and film are important to our culture, and well, this is why. It has the power to change our society and to expose the cruelties of humanity. And that’s precisely what Boy Erased does.
Jared (Lucas Hedges) is the son of a Baptist preacher (Russell Crowe) who find himself in a position of immense shame after being outed directly to his parents. He is forced to attend a gay conversion program with the hopes that his homosexual desires will be silenced. Jared wants to change for his family but after spending some time in the program he finally realizes that he may not be able to achieve that goal with the cruel intent of the program instructor, Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton).
At first, it seemed as if the story was centering around the life of Jared pre conversion therapy, however, the majority of the time is allotted to the intricacies of the program. Because much of the time is spent showing the harrowing methods that the instructors enact to purify the “sin” of the participants, it’s very easy to feel closer to Jared, almost as if you’re right beside him through his journey. Many of the scenes within the center are textured and tangible. The use of non-linear flashbacks to give Jared more depth are done effectively, and it exemplifies how innocent love truly is and how it isn’t exclusive to heterosexuality.
The other participants, mostly male (only one female), all have different backgrounds to show the scope of personalities this affects; not every gay person displays feminine qualities. They are just people. Some are accepting of their place within the therapy and others feel highly disgusted by the entire program. This creates an interesting dynamic within the group in which a few of the boys are battling not only the instructors, but sometimes each other. No matter the character, Edgerton ensures that each of these participants have ample subtext provided for a sense of rich, realism in which the characters feel like ordinary people.
Perhaps the most important relationship in Jared’s journey isn’t with the other members of the program or the instructors, but with his parents. Crowe and Nicole Kidman, who portrays Jared’s mother, both give strong, endearing performances. Edgerton avoids dipping into clichéd territory by attempting to make them the typical, overzealous religious nuts that are often seen in pictures like this. Crowe’s character, in particular, forces his son into a position of self-harm, however, there is a deep love for his only son which can be seen despite the overbearing religious rhetoric.
Kidman’s arc is loud, and quite frankly, leads to one of the best scenes of the entire year. Her character, also a deeply religious person, often rests in the shadows of her husband. But by the end, she demands the control and the empowerment that women so desperately deserve by standing up to her husband’s decision to send their only child away, because she, too, loves her son. No one in the film feels static; from the participants, to the instructors, and the parents. Edgerton’s sophomore film deserves attention and recognition for not only being extremely important for society, but for being narratively sound and deeply moving.
If you can, catch Boy Erased in the theatres. While I practically had a private screening, the impact of the picture could be wider and more emotional with a full theatre sharing the experience. Boy Erased was adapted by Joel Edgerton from the memoir of Garrard Conley. Watch the trailer here.