Boy Erased is not the first film in recent years to explore the interface between religious belief and sexual orientation. Focusing on the inhumane practise of conversion therapy, in adapting the personal memoir of Garrard Conley. Director Joel Edgerton bringing an unflinching realism to the hideous act, while surrounding this with a commentary on religious belief. However, unlike The Miseducation of Cameron Post ‘Boy Erased’ at times struggles to define its core narrative clearly. Leading to a somewhat mixed final message that undoes some of some inherent power of the films first half.
Jared is an only child who is adored and loved by his parents until his sexual orientation comes into question. All following a sexual assault at University in which Jared is the victim, the perpetrator covering his tracks by ‘outing’ Jared. Following these revelations, his father, a lay preacher with a car dealership, struggles to accept his son as a victim. Instead solely focussing on his son’s sexuality; the only conclusion in his mind a local gay conversation camp. A camp that not only dishes out 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). With Jared’s fellow inmates including the damaged and vulnerable Jon (Xavier Dolan) and the cynical but confident Gary (Troye Sivan).
However, as Jared explores the teachings of the camp; the vacuous nature of the messages 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 a commanding performance in the central role of Jared. Offering an emotive and assured exploration of a 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.
However, despite a strong cast, Boy Erased struggles to overcome a sense of simplicity and one-dimensional writing. With Jared’s journey of self-acceptance and rebellion often feeling hollow and confused in construct. Equally problematic is the sexual assault scene early in proceedings; a powerful statement on the dangers of hidden sexuality and power, that never finds resolution in its emotional impact. This adds to a slightly cold emotional connection to each character throughout the film. A trait that while clearly and confidently dealing with the emotional abuse of conversion therapy, never quite delivers emotional attachment to the subject matter. Boy Erased offers a solid film with a strong message. But ultimately leaves you feeling it could have achieved so much more given more time.
Director: Joel Edgerton