Boy Erased is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
Boy Erased isn’t the first film in recent years to explore the interface between religious belief and sexual orientation in the ongoing use of conversion therapy; The Miseducation of Cameron Post would tread similar ground this year, while the underrated Latter Days (2003) explored the darkness of inherent religious control. Based on Garrard Conley’s memoirs, Boy Erased sees Joel Edgerton offer us an unflinching yet complex portrait of family, church and community in condoning conversion therapy and its traumatic psychological effects. Here the evangelical Christian camp Jared (Lucas Hedges) is subject to is a prison in all but name, as individuality is airbrushed away in favour of conformity.
Jared is the only child of Nancy (Nicole Kidman) and Marshall (Russell Crowe), a lay preacher and car salesman. Jared is adored and loved until his sexual orientation comes into question following a sexual assault at University. This brutal encounter is wrapped in unspoken desire and confusion as a fellow college student, and Christian pounces on Jared’s vulnerability. As Jared attempts to deal with the trauma of this first sexual encounter and the confusion that arose, his parents receive a phone call from the perpetrator, outing Jared in an attempt to cover his tracks. Jared honestly tells his parents about the student’s sexual behaviour while confiding in them that he does hold sexual feelings for men. Jared’s father is horrified and contacts the church elders for advice, his concerns more about his own reputation than his son’s welfare.
Under pressure, Jared admits he wishes to change his feelings, and Marshall books for him to see a GP for blood tests and testosterone level checks. The GP tries to talk to Jared about the fact that his sexuality is normal and that it is his decision what he does despite the religious circus surrounding him. However, Jared follows his parent’s instruction, booking into a conversion camp managed by Sykes (Joel Edgerton). But as the camp’s teaching begins to jar with Jared’s emotions and feelings, his self-confidence grows as he seeks emotional support from his mother.
Lucas Hedges offers us a commanding performance as Jared, balancing his internal need for parental approval with his repressed desire to chart his own course. While Nicole Kidman’s nuanced exploration of a mother caught in the void between her religious husband and her son’s needs is assured. Edgerton’s film reflects the damage, intolerance and power of community-endorsed extremism, demonstrating the psychological trauma of conversion therapy and the powerful long-term effects on young people who are forced to feel shame by conflicted adults who are only interested in their own narrow worldview.
However, despite a strong cast and exceptional performances, Boy Erased occasionally struggles to define its core message, never quite asserting whether it is an exposé of religious conmen who prey on vulnerability or a coming-of-age journey toward self-acceptance. Equally, the exceptional ensemble cast surrounding Jared in the camp, including Troye Sivan and Xavier Dolan, often feel underdeveloped in the overarching narrative. However, despite these weaknesses, Boy Erased excels in shining an uncomfortable light on the devastating impact of conversion therapy and community oppression, highlighting the power given to preachers, who are often damaged and dangerous.
Director: Joel Edgerton