Coming to Irish shores after a long stint in America is Boy Erased, a biographical drama film based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name.
The tale told in Boy Erased is one I have become familiar with in the last year. I’m not sure the reason but directors like Joel Edgerton and Desiree Akhavan (The Miseducation of Cameron Post) have decided it’s time the general population understood that something heinous has been going on in the world for a long time to a group of individuals for decades.
Homosexuals have been mistreated for decades. This is nothing new but it seems to me in the last couple of decades the means that people will go about tackling this “issue” have become far more destructive and vile and it wasn’t until 2018 that I began to be educated in this horrible area of history. This came from seeing the Miseducation of Cameron Post starring Chloe Grace Moretz.
This film followed the titular character being sent to a gay conversion camp and being treated to a subtle kind of brainwashing. It was a sombre look at the state of the perception of homosexuality in America at the time and it like its lead had a quiet strength within its narrative.
With Boy Erased I would say director Joel Edgerton is far less subtle but equally as potent with his exploration of Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) an 18 year old with the world at his feet. Jared has everything, a loving family, a beautiful girlfriend and he’s on his way to college. Nothing is getting in his way. Until a horrifying event happens in his first few weeks of college which lead him to tell his family he is gay.
His parents Nancy Eamons (Nicole Kidman) and Preacher Marshall Eamons (Russell Crowe) take the news in their own unique ways. The preacher decides that young Jared needs help and the only way is to head to Love In Action a gay conversion therapy assessment program. This is clearly an issue that needs immediate intervention so Jared is spirited away in the early hours of the morning with his mother in tow.
While Nancy stays at a motel Jared attends the program daily until 5:00 pm. It is here where Jared and the audience meet Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton) the man in charge of the program who is deeply passionate about fixing these young homosexuals through the power of prayer and his own unique therapy sessions.
As I said previously the message and themes of Boy Erased are nothing subtle but what the film lacks in subtlety it makes up for in impact. You follow Jared through his journey of self-discovery and it is heartbreaking. His first real moment of homosexuality is tainted by a person who is so unsure of what they want that they can’t help but hurt those around them with their own confused mentality.
It’s quite clear from the writing and direction that people were utilising religion in all the worst ways possible. In one particular scene, Victor brings one of the young men to his own funeral because in the eyes of the church this man is dead because he is sinning with his so-called impure thoughts. It’s horrifying and deeply troubling to watch and this happens several times throughout the course of the film.
Victor also uses a particular vernacular that is quite disturbing – You can’t be born gay, this is a choice, etc and it shows the kind of monstrous and ultimately crushing mentality people had to face in these programs and still have to face in certain places today.
Easily the most compelling part of Boy Erased is its cast. Lucas Hedges is making a name for himself as a young talent to look out for. There are no over the top performances here simply a young man slowly losing his mind as he begins to understand who he is in the most horrible place he could find himself. Both Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman are amazing though Crowe is seen sparingly in the film opposed to Nicole Kidman’s character though this may have been a conscious choice as Jared’s father didn’t seem to want anything to do with his homosexual son.
Kidman brings that unmistakable warmth to the character of Nancy and it’s comforting, that’s the best way I can describe it. She’s brilliant in this role continuing her streak of being a kick-ass mom (Aquaman). Crowe has the unfortunate job to play a less than forward thinking father who has his son’s best interests in mind even they don’t actually coincide with what his son really wants. I will say though that somehow Crowe brings humanity to it with his performance and I was thoroughly impressed.
Joel Edgerton is working overtime on Boy Erased as co-writer, director and starring as the confused and uneducated Victor Sykes. This man is a detestable human being who does so much damage to Jared and other men and women like him that when you find out where he is now you may wonder (like myself) how he sleeps at night.
A potent and emotional film brought to startling life by an incredible cast Boy Erased is a film that will likely leave you equally sad and angry when you leave the cinema. Make sure and check it out when it hits cinemas.