Boy Erased is a fresh perspective that goes against the recent privileged coming out stories like ‘Love, Simon’ and ‘Call Me By Your Name’, while indifferently poking a finger at religion.
Jared Eamons, played by Lucas Hedges, is forced out of the closet in a brutal way. Jared’s parents, Nancy and Marshall, played by Australia’s very own Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, decide to tackle this problem by sending him to ‘Love In Action’, hoping to cure his homosexuality. It is through Jared’s time at ‘Love In Action’ that we follow the harrowing story that many in the LGBTQI community can resonate with, even if they never attended such therapy themselves.
Just like it did in the true story written by Garrard Conley, the movie unfurls the narrative in the same specific way. It is as much about the insidiousness of conversion therapy than it is about Jared himself, and that’s exactly the way Garrard wanted it to be, which Director Joel Edgerton understood. Joel told the story, not just for Garrard, but for the horrible fact that conversion therapy still exists today. It is not a third-world issue, it is here under our noses. The film is not a call to action, nor is it an activist film – it simply portrays what really happens within the walls of a conversion therapy clinic. From the labels that are designed to make the “patients” feel servile, to the harsh punishments that affect more than the physical body.
It is rare to read a book, watch the movie adaptation later and like them both on the same level. This story succeeds because everything in the film is accounted for; those who have read the book first mustn’t worry about feeling cheated. There’s also a quality in the editing that feels effortless. Every sideways glance, every angle, every nuance is skillfully emphasised. There are scenes within the film that could be watched with the sound off and you’d still know exactly what’s going on – which is not just a kudos to the editing, but also to the acting, the lighting, the staging and the framing.
The pairing between Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Nancy and Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Marshall is spectacular to witness. They perform solid – but not overdone – southern US accents and present a married Christian couple that doesn’t disrespect the awful stereotype of bible-bashing preachers. This matches perfectly with Lucas Hedges performance of Jared, who provides a clear understanding of the internal conflicts that many questioning teenagers go through, predominantly those who have faith in God. How can you hold your faith if the God you pray to condemns your sin? How can you accept your sexuality when your parents won’t?
Even the minor characters are given their time to shine. When fellow-patient Gary, played by Troye Sivan, tells Jared to “play the part – unless you really think you’ve been changed, or even want to,” you can sense the frivolity of the statement smack up against Jared’s helplessness. Or even the simple scene where Xavier, played by Théodore Pellerin, lays with Jared and helps set the calming mood that feels so much like love, but is really just comfort in the end. You may even shed a tear watching this scene, as you watch Jared stare into Xavier’s eyes with an expression of certainty.
As the film draws you through the maze of Jared’s coming-of-age, it beckons you to see the range of consequences arising from gay conversion therapy; from the emotional destruction to the conflict of a parents’ love for their son and the God they pray to. It calls for attention in a cool gradual way. Because truth doesn’t always come in a flash, especially the truth about who you really are.
Then finally, as Boy Erased closes, it gives the viewer a reality check by sharing that nearly 700,000 US citizens have been subjected to conversion therapy, while 36 US states still allow the practice. For Australian audiences, the reality check should be that conversion therapy is still happening here, according to a 2018 report by La Trobe University, with suggestions that many of these organisations are operating undercover.