BOY ERASED ½
R, 114 mins.
2018, R, 114 mins.
Lucas Hedges as Jared Eamons / Nicole Kidman as Nancy Eamons / Russell Crowe as Marshall Eamons / Joel Edgerton as Victor Sykes / Xavier Dolan as Jon / Troye Sivan as Gary / Joy Jacobson as Brandy Vidler
Written and directed by Joel Edgerton / Based on the memoir by Garrard Conley
BOY ERASED is
based on the 2016 memoir of the same name by Garrard Conley, who is the
only child of a Baptist pastor that, when he was attending college at
19-years-old, was outed as homosexual to his deeply religious parents.
Being absolutely petrified with the notion of being openly gay
within his fundamentalist family, Garrard was given a choice by his
father: Be forever disowned by his family (because gayness is a big no-no
in the Baptist religion) or attend a gay conversion therapy
institution in hopes of being "cured".
Facing near insurmountable pressure, Garrard enrolled in such a
camp and his memoir - and this new film - are a devastating chronicle of
the emotional and physical abuse he experienced while there.
is explicitly designed to open the outside
world's eyes to the types of irreparable harm that gay conversion therapy
camps pose on so many countless and closeted homosexual men and women.
If anything, they exist in a naive bubble of believing that
homosexuality is a choice that can be cured, and in their
pursuit of fixing these teens they do more actual harm than any
good. Directed with an
understated economy and great sensitivity to all parties presented by Joel
Edgerton (the underrated Australian actor that's also developing into a
fine filmmaker as well), BOY ERASED emerges as a damning analysis of the
repellent horrors that reside in these therapy clinics, which are
shockingly still a daily fact of life in nearly 40 American states today.
By the end of the film - which proved to me to be both deeply
moving and deeply unsettling in equal parts - I was left with the
sickening notion that this is nearly 40 states too many.
The film also
reinforces young Lucas Hedges (so tremendous in films like MANCHESTER
BY THE SEA and LADY BIRD) as one of the finest emerging actors from his generation, and here he
plays Jared, introduced in the story as a somewhat introverted and
troubled young man that's being sent to the aforementioned
gay conversation camp by his father, Marshall (Russell Crowe), and
wife Nancy (Nicole Kidman) a successful car dealer/pastor and hairdresser
respectively. Jared has lived
a live of staunch spiritualism and dedication to the teachings of the Bible,
which doesn't support gayness in any way, leaving his future with his
family in question. He checks
into the "Love in Action" gay conversion assessment program, headed
up its chief "therapist" Victor Sykes (a quietly chilling
Edgerton), whose philosophy on homosexuality is that it's a morally wrong
lifestyle choice born out of poor decision making and broken parenting.
The 9-5 grind of this camp also includes the kids giving up their
cell phones and possessions that they came in with, not to mention
that they have to suspiciously not mention any details about the therapy
to anyone on the outside, including their parents.
seems to be a willing participant to partake in this clinic, partially
because he sheepishly believes that his being gay can be mended, but
mostly, I think, because he's too afraid to be banished from his family
for a lifetime. At first, the
camp itself seems somewhat inviting with a positive atmosphere, but the
more time Jared spends there the more dreadful his day-to-day life inside of
it becomes. Within no time,
the fairly intelligent Jared begins to see beyond-obvious problems with
Sykes' ideology, that being gay is a choice, not unlike, for example, being
a hockey player. In his mind,
no one is born gay. You can
train yourself to purge such impure sexual urges, which Sykes - and most
Southern white Baptists around Jared - believe is against God's will and
teachings. Love in Action equates homosexuality to sin, and their whole
"treatment" model (sarcastic quotes intentional) is using what
could be best described as invasive interrogation techniques that includes
emotional and physical abuse to "shame" the gayness out of
subjects. Jared starts to see
this wretched program for what it is, which appears vague on end dates
and could potentially mean a permanent stay for him if he doesn't submit
to their teachings.
something out of the way right now: gay conversion camps are, well, pure
evil. Their treatment has
no basis in medical fact, not to mention that therapists like Sykes -
who's challenged by one character late in the film about his credentials -
seem to have no specific training or education whatsoever that should
allow for him to come within fifty feet of troubled youth.
His therapy choices are simple, yet deplorable: condemn kids into
re-converting back to heterosexuality.
Part of what makes BOY ERASED so unnerving is in showing the vile
manipulation that Sykes and his cohorts utilize to essentially humiliate
their targets back on the "straight" track.
The scary repercussions for these young people is the notion driven into them that God and their family will despise them forever if
they remain gay. What's
equally scary to witness is seeing Jared - who was outed via a truly
horrendous altercation with a fellow college student that was concerned
about Jared outing him - lose any semblance of a honest sense of self and
identity; his essence is "erased" through the gay conversion camp's meddling.
The truth is this - Jared is gay, and no amount of shaming it out
of him would ever change that.
quartet at the heart of BOY ERASED is uniformly stellar, with Hedges - in
a truly brave and deeply committed performance laced with layered nuance -
is bravura in showing Jared as a terribly conflicted man being forced to
make a ghastly choice between living life truthfully as homosexual or
living life dishonestly as a faux-hetero male to appease his parents and
religion. Hedges is so
effortlessly natural in the film that there's not one false dramatic beat
in his work. Contrasting him
is the equally understated work by Edgerton as the morally and ethically
reprehensible gay conversion camp head that will stop at absolutely nothing
to ensure that his patients are cleansed of homosexuality once and for
all. In a lesser actor's
hands, Sykes could have been played as an over-the-top religious fanatic,
but he's all the more chillingly unhinged for the relative soft-spoken
manner that Edgerton has as an actor.
The other two
triumphant performances come from Crowe and Kidman, who respectively have
two of the trickiest roles in the film.
Kidman is reliably remarkable playing her kind hearted, but
aggressively religious mother and wife who eventually has to give way to
feelings of maternal support for her son when she begins to smell
something awfully afoul with the conversion camp. And Crowe himself has not been this powerfully reserved and
compelling in a role in an awfully long time as Jared's father, who
traverses some very difficult emotional terrain between being an ultra
conservative man of God that shows absolute disgust for Jared's
homosexuality and a fairly noble minded chap that honestly wants the best
for his son, even if that means confronting his own spirituality in the
process. Crowe's final scene in the film playing opposite of Hedges -
during which time both of their characters anguish over trying to achieve
some level of reconciliation - is among the most brutally sincere and
effective pieces of acting in Crowe's career.
One other thing
that really helps elevate BOY ERASED is that it's not a one sided attack
on faith and religion. It rightfully portrays gay conversion camps as the backwards
minded horror shows that they are, but Edgerton never succumbs to making
Jared's parents one-note villainous caricatures. Nancy and Marshall put Jared in this clinic not because they
are truly vile human beings, but mostly because they love their son and
are hopelessly naive enough to think that he can be cured out of
homosexuality. Their choice
was more misguided than cruel. And
the ultimate inspirational message at the core of BOY ERASED is that even
die-hard Baptists like these parents - that have subscribed to every word
of the Bible as the only truth and rules to live by - slowly, but surely
begin to see the errors of their ways and their faith.
These are good people that made a dumb decision when it came to
their son's well being, but the fact that they come to grips with it and,
by the end of the film, try to learn from it and move forward in a
positive spirit of understanding shows that there's hope for the rest of
us when it comes to not demonizing homosexuality as a sin.
And that's what ultimately makes BOY ERASED both an endlessly
moving and important film; it's a very fair in showing people of faith acting at
their worst and best in service of God.