BOY ERASED (7 out of 10) Written and Directed by Joel Edgerton; Starring Lucas Hedges, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman and Joel Edgerton; Rated R for sexual content including an assault, some language and brief drug use; Running time 114 minutes; In wide release November 16.
Every so often, a movie comes around that is important enough to be required viewing for pretty much the entire population. And importance doesn’t mean that the film is necessarily great or that it was created in a new and unique way, but that its content is something that needs to be experienced and understood by as many people as possible. Boy Erased falls squarely in the latter category as it is full of problems, but its portrayal and explanation of ex-gay “reparative” therapy presents a chilling picture of child abuse taking place in the name of God that most are unaware of.
Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is the son of fire and brimstone preacher Marshall (Russell Crowe) and has been hiding a secret that has been haunting him for years – he’s gay. Try and pray as he might, the fact that there is this part inside of him that he has been taught God hates simply refuses to go away, and after being sexually assaulted and blamed for the assailant’s actions, it is finally brought to light to both his astonished father and mother, Nancy (Nicole Kidman). Desperate to fix himself in the eyes of the Lord, Jared is sent to an intense gay conversion therapy run by a ruthless therapist (Joel Edgerton) who has made it his life calling to set gay and lesbian kids back on God’s path — for the right price of course. Intent on being “healed,” Jared’s experiences in this hellish landscape eventually lead to self-realization that puts him at peace with himself and helps him become the person he was always meant to be.
First and foremost, this was an intensely personal film for me as I also went through ex-gay therapy back when I was in my early 20s. While the horrors shown on screen were thankfully nothing like what I had to go through, there were still enough similarities and exact replications of my experience that made it hard for me to watch and would also be for many others who have gone through this process. Couple that with a rather graphic rape scene, and there were few dry eyes in our screening audience.
Most people are at least familiar that these kinds of things exist, but few are aware of the extent that people go through to brainwash and in some cases, torture, confused and frightened kids. Make no mistake, the abuse piled on mere children in this movie accurately depicts what is going on around the world in real life, and the realism that comes across should be like a gut punch. And while Jared escapes generally unscathed, not all are so lucky, as some will pay for this with their lives. The gasps and snippets of conversation heard after the screening prove how important Boy Erased is in opening eyes to the atrocities being committed.
Since this is based on the written memoirs of the same name, it falls prey to writer/director Edgerton’s being too slavish to the source material. The purpose of books is to show us what characters are thinking while movies show what they are doing, and the biggest complaint here is that too often, characters spend too much time gazing off in the distance. There is obviously a maelstrom of emotions running through their heads, but the audience is unable to experience that. Had they at least included a narrator of some sort, it would have helped, but without it, there is a huge disconnect between them and the audience.
And this is most notable with Jared. Lucas Hedges is a fantastic actor and has proven what he can do with Manchester by the Sea a few years ago. And he’s good here but doesn’t get his chance to shine because of the directorial decisions made by Edgerton. So, while he deftly portrays the gamut of emotions his character experiences, it feels like only a sliver of a performance because they’re only portraying about 30% of his physical and emotional story.
Boy Erased is a good movie just not a great one the subject matter deserved as big and little problems pepper the entire narrative which is frustrating because the story being told is extremely important and reflects a reality many don’t know exists. People should be leaving this movie fired up and angry that child abuse such as this is sanctioned by many religions, and in the United States, even by some governments. It’s appalling and frightening that such atrocities are being committed in the name of God, and the only way to fully address it is to remove the veil of ignorance and get everyone motivated to enact change. Few films this year will move and affect people the way this one does, and for that reason alone, everyone needs to see it immediately.
7 out of 10