Based on a true story as written by Garrard Conley, Australian writer/director/actor Joel Edgerton conjured up the screenplay for Boy Erased, a horrifying story of gay conversion therapy. It actually happened to Conley as a teen-ager when his parents suspected he might be gay.
Jared, in the film, is played by Oscar®-nominated young actor Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea). A better choice for the sensitive teen could not have been made, as Hedges is one of the most promising actors in films today. He captures all the angst the young boy feels as he explores his sexuality, feelings his parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe) don’t understand.
Daddy is a fire and brimstone spouting preacher who heads his own church. Russell Crowe captures the intensity of the man who has specific thoughts on sexuality and what his son should be in the world. He doesn’t cotton to the idea that Jared (Hedges) may have different ideas and feelings about his budding sexuality. It’s one way or no-way with the preacher. Mom (Kidman), on the other hand, is a bit more flexible because she loves her son as he is, but she more or less bows to her husband’s wishes and demands.
When Jared’s sexuality is outed to his parents, they insist he attend a Conversion Therapy program run by Victor Sykes, a non-medically trained leader. Sykes is played to dramatic perfection by Australian actor/director Joel Edgerton. The program seemingly has no bounds and is certainly not sanctioned by any medical or psychiatric organization. Is Sykes a charlatan or just a concerned man who wants to help gay boys turn straight? This theory, by the way, has been outlawed in many States and is not considered a viable solution to changing a person’s sexuality. Edgerton plays Sykes as firm, yet somewhat yielding, to the boys in the class, but at times shows no mercy for their anxiety. Edgerton is believable as the fake “healer” and does a great job of making you like or loathe him. One confused boy is Cameron, an ex-football player in high school who is unmercifully hounded by Sykes. The tragic Cameron is played sympathetically by young Britton Sear.
Lucas Hedges portrays Jared as a normal looking and acting teen-ager. He has no affectations, does not prance or swish, and is seemingly the “All-American” boy. Those words are antiquated descriptions of gay boys and no longer apply to today’s gay teens. He has somewhat of a rebellious nature and clashes constantly with Sykes. They don’t get along and Jared hates having to go to classes. He’s like a rambunctious stallion who is tied up and can’t wait to break out of his chains. He sympathizes with lesbian Sarah (Jesse LaTourette), who doesn’t seem to be able to break her dependence on Sykes. She’s a lost girl and remains helpless. But not Jared! He matures and thinks for himself and finally stands up to his unmovable father.
The so-called Conversion Therapy gets soundly criticized by example in the film. It’s a horrible thing to do to a child, or anyone for that matter. It seems humans are born gay or straight, male, female, transgender and all the sexes in between. Better to not fool with Mother Nature. Perhaps Her plan has some reason and humans should not mess with it.
Boy Erased is a thought-provoking film with outstanding acting.
(Released by Focus Features and rated “R” for sexual assault, some language and brief drug use.)