Cast: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton
Director: Joel Edgerton
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: “Boy Erased” tells the story of Jared (Hedges), the son of a Baptist pastor in a small American town, who is outed to his parents (Kidman and Crowe) at age 19. Jared is faced with an ultimatum: attend a conversion therapy program – or be permanently exiled and shunned by his family, friends, and faith. Boy Erased is the true story of one young man’s struggle to find himself while being forced to question every aspect of his identity.
I thought for certain that Beautiful Boy would be the saddest movie of 2018, but Boy Erased blew that out of the water with the depressing reality that thousands of people face in gay conversion therapy camps around the country. Boy Erased graphically depicts the haunting truth that participants go through and the unethical practices that make you truly ask yourself, “why do we allow this to happen?” Powered by one of the strongest ensemble casts of the year, Boy Erased will make your stomach turn for all the right reasons and hopefully show the people who support these camps the irreversible damage that it does to these people.
The film follows Jared (Hedges), a young gay man who is raised by his parents Marshall (Crowe) and Nancy (Kidman), who are devout Christians with Marshall being the town preacher. When Jared’s parents find out about Jared’s sexuality, they send him away to a conversion therapy program where the counselors will help him overcome his urges and become straight. One of the things that makes this film so powerful is that this is not a film about gay conversion therapy, but a movie with complex characters interacting with one another with the camp serving more so as a set piece. Jared loves his family and loves God and wants to do whatever it takes to get all of their love, but at the same time wants to be accepted for who he is. This level of emotion would not have been delivered without a gut-wrenching performance by Hedges, who continues to show us why is he one of the most promising young actors to be coming up right now. His ability to communicate the pain and suffering these members go through not only to his parents, but to the audience as well combined with his ability to break down the multiple fallacies associated with these camps are some of the main reasons these points land so effectively. While Hedges gives us a powerhouse performance in the lead role, the supporting characters are just as important to the success of this film. Kidman’s role as a mother who struggles with the conflict of loving her son, but having a fundamental part of his life go against her religion is a true testament to what many parents go through. Nancy must decide which relationship is more important to her, the one with her son or the one with her God, and the consequences of her choice. Although these two parents are depicted as small-minded and bigoted, it never feels as though they truly are. The entire film is about these two wanting the best thing for their son and although they might be misguided, at least their intentions come from a good place. With the family bonds shown clearly through the acting of Hedges, Kidman, and Crowe, no film would be complete without a good villain. Edgerton fills that role as Victor Sykes, the head of the camp that Jared attends. The way that Victor treats these people shows he has no boundaries for how far he will go to get his message across. He is deceptive, manipulative, and cruel all for the sake of breaking these people from their so-called, “sins.” Edgerton, who also serves as director, masterfully handles this role where even though he is clearly in the wrong he views himself as doing the right thing. While he may view himself as acting on these people’s best interests, he does so in a way that makes the audience absolutely loathe him. The main issue that the film faces is that the pacing makes the film feel slower than it is. The film is just shy of 2 hours at 114 minutes, but with just how many points the film tries to make, it ends up feeling much longer. While the film might feel longer than necessary, this is a strong chance this is intentional. Since the main part of the film takes places over the course of six days, it might have been Edgerton’s intention to slow the movie down and make us feel like we are in this world for a similar time period. Regardless of the film’s intention, it takes a long time to get to the point even though the point is incredibly powerful and relevant.
Overall, Boy Erased helps provide clarity to a topic that maybe not many people know about with a true, raw, testimony from someone who went through it. I am not sure how well this film will do when Awards nominations are announced, but there is no reason why this movie should not be considered for some major categories. Edgerton has a truly unique movie on his hands and it raises one final question to all of those who still support these camps; would you rather your child be gay or dead, because with these camps those are the only two options.
Overall Score: 9/10