Written by: Dewey Singleton
No one will ever convince me that Joel Edgerton didn’t have an ulterior motive when he took on adapting Garrard Conley’s memoir about growing up a gay man in rural Arkansas (the literary inspiration for the film Boy Erased). While most releases which have attempted to tackle this subject matter have done through the eyes of the individual being forced to live a lie, Edgerton skillfully frames this film through the eyes of Jared’s parents (Jared is played by Lucas Hedges, his parents are played by Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe).
Boy Erased is unsettling by design because dictating who someone is supposed to love is a shattering to a child. Just the idea of conversion therapy (which to this day is only banned in 14 states) heartbreaking but it does bring to mind some questions. Who is the one who really to go through some sort of conversion therapy? Jared, who is scared to admit that he’s a homosexual or his parents who need to learn acceptance.
Edgerton also takes on the role of Victor Sykes, the man who runs the conversation and the alleged symbol of morality in the film. It becomes quickly evident that all Sykes indeed is a man who has repressed his feelings and resorts to subjecting those who go through his “process” to varying degrees of psychological and mental anguish. All while Jared is being put through the hell, his mother Nancy (Kidman) is trying to put forth a positive spin on this whole process. The best moments in the film come when Jared and Nancy are attempting small talk as they attempt to avoid discussing what’s clearly on their minds. Kidman exhibits so much pain on-screen. While she wants to remain faithful to Marshall and their Christian lifestyle, Nancy is a mother who doesn’t like seeing her son in so much pain. Boy Erased doesn’t offer any simple solutions it’s the parent’s awkwardness that makes that ramps of the authenticity of the piece.
Crowe’s character isn’t in the film much, but his presence is felt from beginning to end. Hedges’s character desperately seeks his father’s approval, and for most of this life, he has had it. Jared was popular, played basketball, and is dating the captain of the cheerleading squad. There’s no question that he deep down knows who he is and seems tormented about living a lie. It takes a traumatic moment in college to get him to admit who he is despite knowing the repercussions that were to come. Edgerton’s use of a non-linear timeline allowed the audience to gain context into where things stood in their family and how things could end up.
I found myself riveted during the final confrontation between Marshall and Jared. In many ways, it was symbolic of the growth with occurred during the duration of the narrative. Jared is starting to advocate for himself and is not afraid of his parent’s disapproval. Nancy is starting to realize how wrong all of this talk of conversion indeed is. Marshall has begun recognizing that his dream for Jared will have to be slightly altered. These moments came across as all too real and my heart hurt for them.
Danny Bensi’s score struck a painful note and reflected the feelings of those who were going through the therapy. Eduard Grau’s cinematography paid close attention to the reaction of those in the room by utilizing various close-up shots while keeping a careful eye on what was occurring in the foreground of each shot.
Overall, Boy Erased is well acted and likely will garner some serious awards consideration for Nicole Kidman. The film never lags and delivers quite the emotional gut punch. Make seeing this a top priority!