Review: “Boy Erased” Takes High Road in Depicting Controversial Subject

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Following Beautiful Boy, the second “Boy” movie arrives in as many weeks.  Don’t be confused, Boy Erased is the one to see.  While both are subtle and understated, a similar approach to the subject matter is more effective here.  Instead of a young man battling drug addiction in the former, we have a young man battling gay conversion therapy in the latter.

How easy it would have been to turn Boy Erased into a sensationalistic melodrama with clear-cut good and bad guys.  Based on the memoir by Garrard Conley, though, Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is his own worst enemy.  He wants to change, at first, anyway.  He’s genuinely a “good” kid, one who believes in the strict religious values with which he was raised.

Therefore, his parents aren’t the bad guys.  Yes, Baptist preacher Marshall Eamons (Russell Crowe) makes a production among his church peers of his son’s unanticipated coming out, and Nancy Eamons (Nicole Kidman) stands with her husband as arrangements to cure Jared of homosexuality are quickly made; however, Jared voluntarily enters the Love in Action program.

During his time there, he wrestles with his own feelings and acceptance rather than succumbing to influences of the program.  Changes don’t come fast enough for him.  While this sentiment might seem stereotypical for a generation with short attention spans, here it represents his realization that he’s not going to change.  He’s still God’s creation, he just happens to be gay.

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While the general concept of gay conversion therapy is repulsive, Boy Erased doesn’t depict the process as inherently bad, just flawed.  Jared is smart enough to realize that blaming others isn’t going to solve anything.  Each sin he lists causes him deep reflection; how exactly has he sinned?  In fact, I wonder if he would have been more receptive if the methods made more sense to him.

Emphasizing the un-Christian-like backbone of the program, Jared demonstrates true kindness to others at Love in Action… and is reprimanded for it.  It’s ironic that Jared’s father encourages his congregation to look for all of life’s answers in the Bible.  While the program’s leader, Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton) seems to have done that with psychologically destructive results…

…Jared seems to have done it with psychologically healthy results.  For every passage in Leviticus interpreting homosexuality as a sin, there’s one in which the accepting actions of Jesus are a contradiction.  Again, it’s easy to make one side a villain, but if you take the other side, it would be hypocritical not to forgive it.  It’s not as simple as it appears on the surface.

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My point is that I appreciate Boy Erased for walking a more complicated path.  Instead of damning the program for its intended purpose, it damns the program for its methods.  For example, Jared wants to leave, not because of anything that specifically happens to him, but because he’s not been privy to the fact that he may be kept there longer than originally intended.

All this aside, with which I suppose you could disagree, Boy Erased is just a good movie.  It’s well-directed by Edgerton, who is building quite a resume of favorite movies for me, including The Gift, Midnight Special and It Comes at Night.  This one isn’t a genre film like the ones I listed; however, it does tell a horror story of a different kind.

The standout performance is by Kidman, although her Nancy approaches being the one predictable part of the story.  I mean, if anyone’s going to ultimately stand by her son, it’s going to be his mother.  The route she takes getting there, though, is compelling.  It’s as subtle and understated as the rest of Boy Erased.  It’s also as powerful.

Hedges is very good as Jared.  His performance is mostly internal, meaning he’s quietly intense through most of the movie as he suffers in his head.  During a final confrontation with his father, though, Jared/Hedges is assertive while remaining emotionally restrained.  That’s when the tears came for me, something that never happened in that other “Boy” movie, by the way.

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