Written for the screen, directed by, and co-starring Joel Edgerton, Boy Erased tackles the subject of conversion therapy camps and in-patient clinics that attempt to alter sexual orientation and gender identity. Starring Lucas Hedges as Jared Eamons, the son of Baptist preacher Marshall (Russell Crowe) and his stay-at-home mom Nancy (Nicole Kidman), the film follows Jared as he navigates the Christian-based program run by Victor Sykes (Edgerton). Sykes and his colleagues attempt to retrain the brains of the teenaged and adult subjects in the program, sometimes to disastrous results.
Garrard Conley’s 2016 book Boy Erased: A Memoir, brought further attention to what is still a widespread problem. LGBTQ children and adults, generally from religious families who believe all but heterosexual monogamous relationships are a sin, are being subjected to conversion therapy across the country. It is illegal to conduct these programs in DC and only 11 states, and in those, the laws only protect minors. The film touches on the experience of one victim who experienced conversion therapy, and how it impacted his life and his relationship with his family.
Lucas Hedges already proved his talent with his Oscar-nominated performance in Manchester By the Sea. As Jared, he shows his acting skills continue to expand, holding his own in scenes with Edgerton, Kidman, and Crowe. The story of his character is both heartbreaking and inspiring, and he brings us along as he struggles with his own identity, experiences confusion about his faith, and finds determination in the face of the bullying and abuse so prevalent in conversion therapy.
The film doesn’t shy away from showing the kinds of damage often done by these therapies, but it doesn’t condemn religion as it examines these methods. Edgerton believed it was important to portray these characters as loving each other, even as that love leads to bad choices. Russell Crowe’s Marshall Eamons really does believe he is saving his son from the fires of hell. What Boy Erased shows, through the lens of one family’s experience, is how universally dangerous and ill-conceived these camps are. It is a delicate balance, entertaining while educating an audience, and without the story devolving into a Movie of The Week or feeling like one of those Saturday Afternoon Specials of the 70s. It is to the cast’s credit that it never goes there, probably for the very reason that these characters are anchored in real people.
One of my friends said they weren’t interested in seeing Boy Erased, because they didn’t think it would get much buzz, and the subject matter didn’t seem important. I beg to differ. It’s quite possible Joel Edgerton will get an Oscar nomination for his screenplay, and the portrayals by two Oscar winners (Kidman and Crowe) and Hedges, who will have an Oscar in his hands sooner or later, should make any number of film fans curious to see it. Beyond that, the issue at its core is very important. Many people don’t realize this sort of mental, emotional, and even sometimes physical torture is still going on in this country. Both as an emotional family drama as well as an education to those who know little about conversion therapy, Boy Erased succeeds.
4 out of 5 stars