Following in the footsteps of the coming-of-age drama The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Boy Erased tackles the immoral yet still continued practice of gay-conversion therapy in America’s religious communities and the life-long impact it has on its victims.
From the outside, Jared’s life seems pretty good for a teenage boy. He is the son of a respected Baptist pastor in a small American town, has a pretty girlfriend who is keen to take their relationship to the next level, lives within a seemingly happy and cohesive family, and also works in his dad’s successful car business which will become his later in life. Something, though, just doesn’t seem to fit into this picture of perfect religious, middle-class suburbia, and when Jared heads off to college things only become worse.
When Jared is heartlessly outed to his devoutly religious parents, he is given the ultimatum; change yourself or leave the house. The 19-year-old then finds himself driven to gay-conversion therapy (or a ‘Refuge Program’ as they like to call it) by his anxious mother to be ridden of his homosexual “affliction”. Here he is made to participate in activities like mapping out his family history with details of each of his family members’ sins as a reason for his ‘choice’ of homosexuality, as well as begrudgingly telling the group every homosexual encounter he’s had. As Jared sees less and less sense in the conversion therapies and more nonsense in what Victor Sykes, the program’s head therapist, claims will help ‘fix’ him, he starts to realise that maybe there’s actually nothing wrong with his feelings.
Based on the memoir by Garrard Conley, Boy Erased clearly depicts the unnecessary emotional torture of religion and the emotional, verbal and physical abuse (including being beaten with Bibles) found in gay-conversion centres. It also deals with the unsurprising, yet none-the-less traumatic consequences they have. The film, though, doesn’t over-dramatise the situation, even when there is an inevitable suicide, demonstrating that this dreadful scenario is merely an everyday reality for many young people in the world.
The entire cast is faultless, leading Boy Erased to create strong waves of anger, frustration, disbelief and devastation within its emotionally-involved audience. It is also strongly Australian with Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and the multi-talented Joel Edgerton, who also wrote the screenplay and directed the film, taking on prominent roles. Lead actor, Lucas Hedges, similarly to the overall feel of the film, is powerfully understated as Jared, not needing to dramatise the role to get the point of the film across. This allows for his bold emotional moments to have a stronger impact on the audience and hammer home the film’s message.
Nicole Kidman is a scene-stealer as Nancy Eamons, Jared’s always perfectly presented (manicured nails, coiffed blonde hair) religious mother. Within Boy Erased the audience not only witnesses Jared’s struggle, but also that of his mother who finds herself torn between the combined force of her husband and their shared religion, and the devoted love she has for her son. Kidman perfectly captures the growth of Nancy as she realises that she doesn’t have to do what religion and the men around her tell her, similarly to the realisation of her son.
Openly gay pop singer, Troye Sivan, also plays a role within Boy Erased as a fellow attendee of the conversion therapy and, although only in a smaller role, proves he’s got some acting chops that will be interesting to see develop.
Boy Erased can at times be incredibly difficult to watch, but is well worth the emotional journey thanks to a strong and dedicated cast, interesting use of timeline and its basis on a true American story.
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Boy Erased opens on November 8th. There will be a special screening for Amnesty International on November 5th. Click here for bookings.