BOY ERASED tells the story of Jared (Hedges), the son of a Baptist pastor in a small American town, who is outed to his parents (Kidman and Crowe) at age 19. Jared is faced with an ultimatum: attend a conversion therapy program – or be permanently exiled and shunned by his family, friends, and faith. Boy Erased is the true story of one young man’s struggle to find himself while being forced to question every aspect of his identity.
Coming to UK cinemas from Feb 7. Boy Erased is a strange one for European audiences because while we have groups with strong religious/right wing views, we don't have the seething mass of hate and miseducation that erupts from US right wing religious views. Look at America right now, we have a president who screamed that he would be the cheerleader who would protect the LGBTQ+ community. A promise he never intended to keep because his vice president believes in "Pray the Gay Away" and the destruction of LGBTQ+ civil rights.
In Boy Erased we follow true events based on the life of Garrard Conley, a young man who goes through something which many young men and women go through, going against the grain, realising they might be gay but not knowing where to go next. Imagine that confusion compounded by a lifetime of being told it's a sin, that hell awaits if you cannot turn away from these immoral urges.
Enter Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) son of a preacher (Russell Crowe) and a preacher’s wife (Nicole Kidman). He's making a choice, a choice driven by impulse to be who he has to be, to be who he needs to be to be happy. Wouldn't that be enough for any parent to say, "I love you... if you're happy, we're happy". If life were meant to be happy 100% of the time that would be the end of it and Jared would go on to lead a fulfilling life with a husband and family and parents who helped him every step of the way.
The thing is, Boy Erased isn't just about a young man going through one of the greatest struggles for acceptance he'll ever face. It's about the parents and the people running the gay conversion clinic. In some way they are all struggling for acceptance whether it be with their own homosexuality or a struggle with their religion. A mother who is tethered to her god but whose instinct is to protect her son. A father who preaches about the sin of homosexuality and how his own preaching’s tell him he can no longer love his son.
Everyone here in some way is a victim, including the head of the clinic Victor Sykes played by Director Joel Edgerton.
Unlike 2018's The Miseducation of Cameron Post which tackled the same subject (seek it out), there is no levity here. Jared is mentally abused from the moment he walks through the doors of the clinic, his freedoms are stripped, he's put under a microscope and he's confronted by what appears to be several broken men and in some cases women. The future is bleak and there's never any glimmer of hope. Even the end of the movie concludes with a muted kind of happy, there's no waiting to exhale moment where you feel you can breathe again which I guess for Jared even after the clinic was far behind in the rear view, it took a while to feel any kind of safety.
Joel Edgerton crafts a beautiful film, the camera dances around the characters and allows them to tell their stories; their points of view no matter how misguided. Every interaction in this film towards Jared is a misguided kind of love, an imperfect love which damaged and left no room for healing.
The performances throughout feel somewhat muted, an intentional disconnect created with Jared and the world around him until people are forced to come together. Everyone here has something to offer this remarkable story from compassion to the deepest depths of self-doubt. It's all here wrapped up in an educational and spirited gift.
Bigotry is very much still alive in the world we live in and it's films like Boy Erased that puts institutionalised bigotry on display. These facilities exist. This thinking exists... it's dangerous and it's remarkably mainstream. US States are now beginning to act and ban gay conversion therapy but there's still a lot more that needs to be done.
Sykes in the film tells a group under his care; "God will not love you, the way that you are". Just know that even if god won't. Someone else will. Be strong, be who you need to be to be happy. The world is full of hate so create your own bubble and be safe. There's always someone out there willing to listen, so start searching, never feel alone.
Boy Erased is a film that needs to be seen, don't let it get lost in the early fun blockbuster fair of 2019. Support challenging narratives like this film has to offer. You never know... you may just learn a thing or two.