By TANIA AZHANG
Warning: this review contains some spoilers
Based on Garrard Conley’s memoir, Boy Erased follows the heartbreaking story of Jared Eamons, the son of a Baptist pastor from Alabama, and his experiences attending a conversion therapy program. Boy Erased was released on November 2, 2018, and has garnered widespread critical acclaim and many Oscars speculations. With its star-studded cast and profound character exploration, this film is currently rated 83% on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.1/10 on IMDb.
The director of the film is Joel Edgerton, who also wrote, produced, and starred in the picture. He is known for his appearances in big budget Hollywood movies such as Red Sparrow and Warrior, to name a few. However, Boy Erased is a radical change for Edgerton. He takes a unique approach to the film by deciding not to sugarcoat anything. With a budget of three million dollars, the film’s sole focus is on the story and the characters: a young gay man struggling to come to terms with his sexual identity. There isn’t anything entertaining about this film. It is a cold, unflinching reflection of the horrors of conversion therapy and how they affect LGBTQ+ youth.
The strength of this film rests in its performances. The cast includes Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, and Edgerton himself. Troye Sivan is also briefly featured as one of the therapy patients. Lucas Hedges’ portrayal of the main character, Jared, is tear-jerkingly honest. Throughout the film, Jared is sweet, a good boy only trying to do what’s best for him and his family. Hedges delivers his struggle with accepting his own identity while trying to please his family beautifully on screen. One feels the need to cradle Jared and protect him from the world, thanks to Hedges’ tormented performance. Nicole Kidman disappears into the part of Nancy Eamons, a southern mother who only wants the best for her son. Kidman’s performance leaves intense feelings and tears out in the open. Russell Crowe is cold and stiff as Marshall Eamons, Jared’s father and the one responsible for his enrollment in the conversion therapy program. He constantly looms over Jared like a dark shadow, but ultimately tries his best to reconcile with his son in the aftermath of his conversion therapy experience. Finally, Joel Edgerton plays Reverend Sykes, the closeted head of the program. Edgerton uses a range of emotions to bring this character to life. The film wouldn’t flow without Edgerton’s unpredictability.
The story is based off of Garrard Conley’s real life experiences in conversion therapy. The film itself feels like real life, and there isn’t anything “Hollywood” about it. It shows Jared experiencing multiple forms of psychological torture. The program humiliates Jared and his fellow attendees, forcing them to condemn their homosexuality and ask for forgiveness. On his first day, the program employees strip Jared of his personal items, not allowing him to call his mother and sifting through his private notebook. When he uses the restroom, one of the employees follows him in and keeps an eye on him. The attendees aren’t treated like human beings, and they have no personal space or privacy. They are continually humiliated, causing psychological damage and even leading one of the patients to commit suicide.
Edgerton’s focus when making the film was not on set design, costume design, or cinematography. The costumes in the film are suffocatingly generic, characterising the societally constructed life Jared leads. He has no room for color or creativity, only the perfectly neat life his parents have set out for him. The soundtrack is beautifully composed, but doesn’t draw too much attention to itself. There is no room for distractions in this film, only leaving the audience with the bare story to follow.
Although there isn’t much to particularly enjoy in this film, it is incredibly important that audiences watch it. The story puts viewers in Jared’s shoes and opens their eyes to what he and thousands of others have suffered. It emphasizes the dangers of conversion therapy, a practice that is still legal in multiple states. It reveals the injustices committed when one is close-minded. Finally, it makes the audience face the terrible things that are happening to the LGBTQ+ community, and it spurs them to do something about it. The film is brilliantly and suffocatingly realistic; in fact, it is so brutally realistic that once viewers are watching it, they want nothing more than for the movie to end.
Ultimately, Boy Erased is a must watch for all audiences. It unmasks the truth of what’s happening to our LGBTQ+ youth, and why it’s so crucial to be open-minded.