Boy Erased is not the first film in recent years to explore the interface between religious belief and sexual orientation. Focusing in particular on the inhumane practice of conversation therapy. Adapting the personal memoir of Garrard Conley. Joel Edgerton brings an unflinching realism to insidious act of gay conversation. While also highlighting the hypocrisy and hate that sits at its centre. However, unlike the The Miseducation of Cameron Post Boy Erased struggles to clearly define its core narrative. Leading to a somewhat mixed final message that undoes some of the some inherent in the films first half.
Jared is an only child who is adored and loved by his parents until his sexual orientation comes into question. As a result of a a sexual assault at University in which Jared was the victim. Following the revelations at home, his father a preacher with a car dealership. Working alongside his traditional bible belt mother opt to send Jared to a local gay conversation camp. A camp that not only provides religiously fuelled dogma on the lives of gay men. But also isolates and shames its residents into submission under the guidance of Sykes (Joel Edgerton). Jared’s fellow borders including the damaged and vulnerable Jon (Xavier Dolan). And the cynical but confident Gary (Troye Sivan) who simply goes through the motions to ensure his escape.
However, as Jared explores the teachings of the camp, the vacuous nature of the messages they preach become more and more unbearable. His need for rebellion growing stronger as each day passes. While his relationship with mother and father who sent him begins to change the very foundations of their marriage.
Lucas Hedges puts in commanding performance in the central role of Jared. Offering an emotive and assured exploration of young gay man caught between community, family and personal freedom. While Nicole Kidman offers a nuanced exploration of a mother also living on the edges of freedom as she questions her role in Jared’s fear. Meanwhile Russell Crowe demonstrates the sheer stubbornness of a father who cares more for his personal reputation as a religious leader than his son. While Edgertons direction attempts to ensure Boy Erased carries a realism to the subject at hand.
However, despite its cast, the problems for Boy Erased come from a narrative that often feels rushed and one dimensional. With of Jared’s journey into self acceptance exploring often feeling hollow in construct. Equally problematic is the sexual assault scene. A scene that in effect starts Jared’s journey, but is never fully countered with more positive same sex expereinces. Leaving a slightly bitter taste in the mouth of those watching. For these reasons Boy Erased often leaves you feeling slightly cold in emotional connection. And while clearly and confidently dealing with the emotional abuse of conversation therapy. Boy Erased never quite delivers the emotional attachment the subject matter truly deserves. In conclusion Boy Erased offers a solid film with a strong message. But ultimately could have achieved so much more.
Director: Joel Edgerton