Based on the memoir of the same name by Garrard Conley, Boy Erased relates the shocking details of what goes on behind the locked doors of a conversion therapy programme designed to “correct” homosexuality through religious doctrine.
A Baptist preacher (Russell Crowe) and his wife (Nicole Kidman) must come to terms with their son’s homosexuality. 18-year-old Jared (Lucas Hedges) is obliged to discuss his sexual identity with his parents after an incident at college, and this leads to the confession that he is indeed gay. Saddened and deeply concerned, they send him to an intensive therapy meant to augment his masculinity and convince him that homosexuality is learned behaviour.
A group of young people who feel just as uneasy and uncomfortable about the programme as Jared does, find themselves forced to confess their supposed sins and ordered to behave in ways considered appropriate for their gender. Jared’s feeble hopes of finding answers in this prison-like establishment soon vanish as he and other participants are subjected to daily humiliations and psychological abuse.
The striking aspect of the story is the fact that each one of the three family members unquestioningly believes that others know best, and that somebody with more authority will have a better solution for their problem. The teenager blindly puts himself in his parents’ hands, while his mother accepts her husband’s decision without questioning, and Jared’s father, in turn, seeks counsel from the religious men he looks up to. All three eventually realise that the opinions of those they trusted were misguided.
The subject matter of Boy Erased is what makes it powerful, and the plot is further supported by some excellent performances. The film’s aim to expose an ugly secret, however, takes precedence over the emotional depth of the story, which is never fully expressed. While the audience naturally sympathises with Jared, his testimony does not open any window into his psyche, a feat perfectly achieved, for instance, in the Oscar-winning Moonlight, another film dealing with a sexual identity struggle.
The film’s emotional momentum is carried forward more effectively by Jared’s parents’ gradual coming to terms with reality, and his mother’s quiet evolution is especially touching. While Kidman and Crowe provide a solid base for the picture, all the secondary characters Jared meets at the therapy programme are not given a chance to develop. This turns the film into a predictable ticking bomb where there is little to distract the audience from the fact that the despotic bullying by the (so-called) therapists can only lead to Jared eventually exploding.
An important picture in that it uncovers a worrying reality to be challenged, Boy Erased lacks the psychological sophistication to also reveal the emotional trauma at the centre of the story.
Boy Erased is released nationwide on 8th February 2019.
Watch the trailer for Boy Erased here: