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Review: ‘Boy Erased’ only has to tell its story to be affecting Special

Posted Nov 11, 2018 by Sarah Gopaul
‘Boy Erased’ tells the true and demoralizing story of a young man who submits to familial pressure and agrees to enrol in a conversion therapy program.
A scene from  Boy Erased
A scene from 'Boy Erased'
Focus Features
In spite of certain actions, behaviours and programs proving harmful, it’s been exceptionally difficult to eradicate them. Therefore, it’s become the work of the survivors to educate others about the negative effects and warn them away from these damaging elements. Of course, those who choose not to believe will never be convinced, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try — saving one is better than none at all. Gay conversion therapy is a prime example of a destructive system that is meant more for the people around the person enrolled than the person themselves, yet they continue to operate across the United States. Boy Erased is one man’s experience at such a camp.
Jared (Lucas Hedges) is smart, popular and creative. He is the son of a Baptist preacher, writes short stories in his spare time, and is taking it slow with his girlfriend. He’s kept his attraction to other men a secret, but he’s unceremoniously outed by a vindictive schoolmate. His parents are devastated, but while his mom (Nicole Kidman) tries to come to terms, his dad (Russell Crowe) immediately begins damage control to avoid any further embarrassment. After consulting with his clergy, he decides Jared will attend a gay conversion therapy program. The daily courses are led by Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton), who teaches his pupils their feelings are wrong and must be suppressed in order for them to live fulfilling lives.
Writer/director Edgerton’s film is an undeniable condemnation of conversion therapy. However, it doesn’t deliver its message by simply telling audiences it's bad or relying on statistics to prove its point. It uses Jared's experiences in this particular program, which is still legal in 41 U.S. states, to illustrate the damaging effects these programs have on already vulnerable and confused, but otherwise healthy, individuals. They especially target young people who are often admitted against their will and are more susceptible to the pressures applied in these programs. Some of their tactics are similar to those used in interrogations and brainwashing as their goal is to “break” people so they can be molded into a more desirable version of themselves.
Jared is enrolled in the day course, which means he arrives in the morning and is allowed to leave in the evening. For more difficult cases, there is a set of ominous houses located behind the centre where people who are resistant to the teachings are admitted for more long-term treatment. Sadly, others find the only way to end the suffering is to take their own life. Those in the program are physically and mentally abused, publicly shamed and stripped of their power. Its callousness is disguised as care, which is difficult to watch without feeling for those being subjected to such mistreatment.
This film is somewhat understated, but it fits the subject matter well. Where But I’m a Cheerleader used an exaggerated representation of conversion therapy to make its point, this film uses sincerity and realism to deliver its meaning. Hedges’ portrayal of Jared’s struggle with this parents’ disapproval and his own happiness is genuine, drawing audiences into the narrative and inviting them to empathize with his character. Kidman also meets the challenge of depicting a woman who believes she must choose between her son and her faith, which unsurprisingly puts a strain on her marriage. Edgerton’s Victor looks like a mild-mannered man, but when he tries to convince people of the wrongness of homosexuality his demeanour changes and he becomes quite intimidating.
Jared’s talent as a writer allowed his account to be shared with the world and now this film will take his story even further. He was lucky to have a mother whose love could see past the screen of misunderstanding and loathing in order to give Jared the opportunity to find his voice and accept himself.
Director: Joel Edgerton
Starring: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe