Based on the memoir by Garrard Conley, Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased is another powerful milestone for the LGBTQ community as it touches on not only internal conflict, but the awful process known as conversion therapy that many are still subject to.
The film follows the renamed Jared (Lucas Hedges) as he struggles to understand his sexual identity and is disapproved of by his father (Russell Crowe), a prominent Arkansas Baptist preacher, and his mother (Nicole Kidman) after coming out as gay. In order to “change” him, his father sends him to a centre for conversion therapy, an abusive process that attempts to make homosexual people straight. However, Jared is strong in his beliefs and resolve, resulting in clashes with the therapy leader (Edgerton), his father and himself.
Jared’s journey is an emotional trip as he struggles to deal with both his personal identity and the abuse he receives from Victor Sykes (Edgerton). If there needed to be any more evidence on how terrible conversion therapy is (despite being debunked for years), Boy Erased wholeheartedly conveys it. Seeing Jared and the other members of the therapy group going through “man-training” and being beaten with a bible is incredibly disturbing and showcases how wrong these therapies are. It is only more disturbing knowing that this therapy still exists, as shown in some post-credit statistics, in over two-thirds of the U.S. and Boy Erased should definitely spark thoughts in viewers as to why this is still the case.
Unsurprisingly most of Boy Erased’s emotion is found in Lucas Hedges’ performance, which is undoubtedly award-worthy. Hedges really makes you feel Jared’s struggle, seeing him build up his strength to defy Sykes and stick to his beliefs. Constant flashbacks to Jared’s life before therapy add some great context to him as a character, even if these flashbacks create some odd transitions. Nicole Kidman’s role as his conflicted mother also has a great arc, from being silent and obedient to sharing Jared’s belief to stand up for what he thinks is right is heartwarming and makes the story that much more significant.
Edgerton puts in an excellent performance that also could be deemed award-worthy, bringing a strange sense of charm to Sykes before the audience come to undoubtedly despise him. After his emotional abuse of centre attendees, he is seen much more like a man working alongside the Devil than any sort of God. It also has to be said that there is a surprisingly good performance from Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) as his character Brandon, is both suitably intimidating and evil.
The film even finds time to make the audience laugh and ultimately leaves them with much more of a hopeful message than a depressing one. Edgerton has written some excellent dialogue and has done a great job putting a story like this together. Even though he, himself, isn’t a part of the LGBTQ community, that doesn’t take away from his accurate portrayal of Jared’s journey, resulting in an attempt that anyone can appreciate, regardless of ties to the community or not.