Written by Patrick Rogers.
Graphic by Peyton Cabaniss.
Boy Erased is one of two major motion pictures released this year to bring the truth about conversion therapy to the big screen. Based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir, directed by Joel Edgerton, and featuring names like Troye Sivan, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, and Lucas Hedges, the film is not a happy ending high school dramedy or a romantic scene of the Italian countryside. Instead, it is a darkly accurate depiction of some of the most heinous treatment charged to LGBT youth in this country.
After being forced out to his faithful, Baptist parents, Jared, a college student played by Lucas Hedges, is signed away to conversion therapy. The film opens as Jared gets ready for his first day at “Love in Action,” an outpatient conversion camp led by Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton). Following his first week at the camp, the circumstances surrounding his admittance are revealed through a series of flashbacks. While no LGBT youth experience is ‘typical’, Jared faces some of the hallmarks, including rejection by his parents, vitriol from his peers, as well as a traumatic sexual assault that may be disturbing for some viewers.
It is at the program that Jared finds friendship and solace in his peers, particularly through the guidance of Gary (Troye Sivan). In addition to being a source of advice on screen, Sivan is featured twice on the soundtrack. The film opens to his original hit “The Good Side” and he is featured on the made-for-movie track “Revelation.” The song plays at one of the film’s hallmark moments– a caring and warm-hearted night between Jared and potential love interest Xavier (Theodore Pellerin). This one of but a few moments that break up the mostly slow yet ominous tone of the film, and those who know what is coming are carried through those otherwise tepid moments by a sense of foreboding.
Hedges and Kidman take on their roles with a sense of impeccable honesty, and Kidman’s portrayal of the mother-son dynamic makes it that much more piercing when she signs him away. Crowe’s performance is less convincing, as it seems he is not fully devoted to the fire-and-brimstone preacher he is supposed to be, while he still clearly opposes his son’s sexuality. Additionally, Edgerton’s acting role in the film comes off as inconsistent, with his portrayal of the anti-gay convert not matching the full horrors of conversion therapy until well into the film. His acting notwithstanding, Edgerton as a director displays the horrors of the experience with a bluntness and honesty that is truly surprising. Sexual assault, physical and verbal violence, suicide, and psychological abuse are all shown with potentially upsetting accuracy and still only offer a glimpse of the truth for many LGBT youth across the nation. Its is by shining even a dim light on such abuses that the film finds its true value in finally bringing the suffering of LGBT individuals to the silver screen.
In recent years there has been more LGBT representation on the big screen than ever before. However, even recent and highly-hyped movies such as Love Simon (2018) and Call me by Your Name (2017), showed a queer love story largely through rose-colored glasses. Queer films of years past have often had a happy ending or ignored the darker side of what LGBT people go through on a daily basis, particularly when coming out. Even these recent and large-scale films ignore the physical violence, verbal abuse, and lack of acceptance from family that many kids face when coming out. It is refreshing that Boy Erased does not hold back. Jared does not have a happy coming-out story, immediately successful relationships, or unconditional love. Instead he goes through some of the worst trauma imaginable, trauma that is an unfortunate reality for so many.
This is where Boy Erased hits you– in its potential, in its sincerity, in the carefully nuanced dynamics of Jared and his mother. It is not an entertaining night out, it is not a movie to happy cry to, it’s the truth. A dark and twisted truth that has affected at least 700,000 people in the US alone. The benefits of films such as this are impossible to see when they are released, it’s in the coming months and years that people will really find value. Namely, there is hope that with more representation on screens, LGBT youth will occupy a larger space in the world. By showing the world what conversion therapy actually is, more work can be done to end it. At the time of writing this, only 9 states and the District of Columbia have outlawed conversion therapy on minors, and a study by the Williams Institute estimates that in areas that have not, at least 20,000 kids will receive the treatment from a doctor before they turn 18 (Brinton, 2018).