Director: Joel Edgerton
Screenwriter: Joel Edgerton, based on Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family by Garrard Conley.
Runtime: 114 mins.
Australian release date: 8 November 2018
Previewed at: Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney, on 15 October 2018.
The recent alarming report that gay ‘conversion’ therapy is still practised in Australia, despite being deemed unethical and harmful (not to mention ineffectual) by psychologists, makes you realise that the legality of same-sex marriage hasn’t been accepted in this country en-masse. For this reason alone, it is interesting to view Aussie actor/director Joel Edgerton’s latest feature, Boy Erased, which has Australian actors in many of the lead roles although it covers the harrowing real-life experience of a young man in the USA. The film is based on the memoir of an American male raised in a highly religious family who had to undergo the controversial therapy after being outed by a fellow student but it seems it could have happened right here in Australia.
Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges in a terrific performance) is the only son of a fairly typical middle-American household (even though his ‘parents’ just happen to be the best Antipodean actors around). His father Marshall (Russell Crowe) is a car dealer during the week and a Baptist preacher on the weekends, and his ‘mom’ Nancy (Nicole Kidman) a hairdresser and home-maker, and the three of them live a sheltered, even somewhat closeted life - pardon the pun! Jared supresses his sexual identity through his school years but when he enters college, after splitting up with his childhood sweetheart, he is seduced, indeed raped, by a fellow student, Henry (Joe Alwyn), who takes it upon himself to turn the tables and accuse Jared of coming on to him. When the young man approaches his parents in an agonising scene where he tries to redress the story and at the same time ‘come out’ to them, their reaction is unfortunately negative, not surprising considering their fundamentalist beliefs. Marshall states that Jared can’t live under his roof when his sexuality goes against his religion, and the young man is sent off for conversion therapy. The institution Jared is sent to is called Love in Action and is headed up by Victor Sykes (director Joel Edgerton), who is without doubt one of the most manipulative characters you are likely to see on screen this year. While there, Jared meets other conversion subjects, including Jon (Xavier Dolan) and Gary (Australian singer Troye Sivan), and the abuse that’s passed off as therapy at Love in Action becomes more and more evident.
Boy Erased is compelling viewing if only because you can’t believe that this insidious practice exists. It takes a fine cast to reveal such a story in a nuanced and powerful way but this is also due in large part to the talented Edgerton, who told Garrard Conley that, “I want to convince your father what he did was wrong. And I want to do it in a language he and others like him might understand.” Both Kidman and Crowe are utterly believable as the couple who are out of their depth, drowning in their puritanical beliefs and not fully understanding the ramifications of these delusions, yet very loving of their son. As Nancy says, “I love God and God loves me. And I love my son. That simple.”
Regardless of which side of the fence you sit, there are moments when you become aware of the impact this story would have on those who have been through the same treatment and how completely inhumane the whole idea is - not just on a physical level, but emotionally and spiritually. Boy Erased is a film that should be compulsory viewing for many but, unfortunately, will probably only be viewed by those who care and ignored by those who simply don’t. That’s a shame because it reveals that in the New Testament it is clear that Jesus remained neutral about homosexuality and for 2,000 years His followers have got His message wrong. It’s about Love, not who you love.