It’s 2018 and only 14 out of the 50 U.S. states have laws against minors attending gay conversion therapy camps. This startling fact is what the film “Boy Erased,” starring Lucas Hedges as Garrard Conley, is attempting to change or at least bring awareness to.
With Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe backing Hedges as his character’s parents, this heartbreaking story serves as coming of age tale that (as the film states) 700,000+ LGBTQ youth have had to endure. Playing the antagonist is Garrard’s father, a preacher of a local church, and Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton) who leads Love In Action (LIA), the gay therapy camp that Hedges’ character attends after being forcibly outed as gay to his parents.
It’s easy to point out Crowe and Sykes as the sole antagonists and it’s easy to think that all it would take for Hedges to overcome their inability to accept him is for Hedges character to stand up for himself and move on.
“Boy Erased” is the one of the first movies of its kind. Therefore, it doesn’t have the luxury to focus completely on its characters, as it takes on the role of addressing an entire system that’s still legal in 36 states, as well as the entire history of gay conversion therapy camps.
With the weight of the attempt to tell thousands of stories of people who have been through these camps in under two hours, the characters’ motivations become one-dimensional and muddied. The exception, however, lies with the Hedges and Kidman, who create a purely authentic feeling of a real mother and son relationship, strained by the overarching rule of men and religion.
The acting of Hedges and Kidman is nearly flawless, each being accomplished actors in their own right. Hedges has become one of Hollywood’s most sought after actors, usually filling roles that require the young artist to act more serious and mature than most actors his age could possibly handle. Experience from his past roles in “Manchester by the Sea,” “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards” are evident in his performance in “Boy Erased.”
Despite average character development and the film leaning on Hedges and Kidman’s acting, what the film does best is pull the veil back on the torment, pure violence and undying hatred LGBTQ youth experience while being forced into these programs. It exposes the physical and physiological toll the tactics used against these teens in the hopes to change their “sexual diversions” have on their young minds.
“Boy Erased” does not shield the audience from the harsh realities that people often live through when living behind closed doors. The movie’s hardest scenes include a graphic rape as the camera sits motionless, seemingly as stunned as the viewer. A young man is also forced to attend his own funeral and is eventually beaten by program and family members with a Bible, a not so subtle analogy for how religion treats people who diverge too far from their “norms.”
If you wish to “close your eyes to what you can’t imagine” avoid this film. However, if you’re looking for a film to possibly challenge your preconceived notions about LGBTQ people, the Deep South and religion, I challenge you to see this film with friends and family, and be ready to have the difficult talks that we as a society usually shy away from.
Colton Newman is the photo editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @Coltonperson.