‘Boy Erased’ Is a Harrowing Tale of Spiritual Abuse and Homophobia
With over 700,000 Americans having been subjected to gay conversion therapy, it’s no wonder that films depicting the experience have become a subgenre of LGBTQ dramas, with the satire “But I’m a Cheerleader” being a notable example. More recently “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” explored the many sinister aspects of this controversial therapy, and now Joel Edgerton is digging even deeper with “Boy Erased,” a harrowing drama exploring spiritual abuse and other horrors inflicted on those put through the ringer by misguided “Christians.”
Based on the memoir of the same name by Garrard Conley, “Boy Erased” follows Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges), whom we meet as a golden boy high school athlete living in Arkansas with his proud parents, Baptist pastor Marshall (Russell Crowe) and homemaker Nancy (Nicole Kidman). After warding off the sexual advances of his cheerleader girlfriend, Chloe (Madelyn Cline), Jared breaks up with her and heads to a Christian liberal arts college, where he is able to move around more freely. There, he befriends another handsome athlete, Henry (Joe Alwyn), and things seem to be looking bright for him until he experiences a horrific rape. Like most male victims of sexual assault, he is too ashamed to even articulate what has happened to him, let alone report it. To make matters worse, his parents afterwards get a call from the school informing them of their son’s alleged immoral behavior. Jared admits to his being attracted to men, and after consulting with elders at his church, Marshall, with support from Nancy, makes the decision to send his son to the day program at Love in Action, an ex-gay Christian ministry.
Being 18, Jared has some choice in the matter, although refusing to seek “treatment” would mean facing ostracised from his community and, even worse, fracturing his relationship with parents. “Boy Erased” does an excellent job of showcasing how deeply ingrained homophobia is in the Bible Belt. Jared does want to be “cured,” and he puts his faith in his parents, whom he knows to be decent, loving people.
At Love in Action, Jared encounters mostly angry authority figures who throw figurative stones at the young people under their care in order to deflect from their own sins. Edgerton is almost unrecognizable as L.I.A.’s director, Victor Sykes, a character based on a conflicted real-life figure. The actor/director brings to life an environment in which the Bible is subverted and used as a tool of abuse, quite literally in one particularly terrifying sequence involving a fake funeral. Beloved Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea takes a drastic turn here as a born-against Christian counselor who proves to have something of a sadistic side.
Hedges gives what is perhaps is his most earnest performance yet at Jared. At one point, another guy in the conversion program, Gary (Troye Sivan), sees him struggling and suggests that he just fakes it until he makes it, but this is not in Jared’s nature. As for Marshall and Nancy, it would be very easy to detest them for their bigotry and what they have pushed their son into, but Crowe and Kidman, under Edgerton’s direction, have brought out the humanity in their characters. Crowe shows compassion for Marshall, a father being forced to rethink everything in which he believes, while Kidman gives an impactful performance of a fictional representative of the millions of women pressured to submit to their husbands and keep sweet against their better judgement.
“Boy Erased” opens Nov. 2 in select theaters.