Imagine how it must feel to think that who you love goes against the fundamental beliefs that you’ve been raised with. What would you do? Would you try to change an innate part of yourself for the sake of another’s comfort? Or do you embrace your true self and risk losing the people you love? This is the dilemma Garrard Conley chronicles in his memoir, Boy Erased. Upon reading this book, Joel Edgerton was instantly taken with Garrad’s touching story of self-discovery, faith, family, acceptance, and love. The result is a breathtaking film that evokes empathy and inspires thoughtful dialogue.
When the son of a Baptist preacher is outed by a spiteful college classmate, he is prompted to confess something that he has not even admitted to himself. Jared (Lucas Hedges) tells his parents, Marshall and Nancy Eamons (Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman), that he thinks about men. Based on their long-standing beliefs, he acknowledges that this instinct is wrong and he is willing to change. This is when the bewildering horror and paradoxical beauty begins.
“Based on their long-standing beliefs, he acknowledges that this instinct is wrong and he is willing to change...”
Therapist Victor Sykes (Edgerton) berates the men and women in his gay conversion camp. He shames them, instructs them to pick their families apart to find people to blame for their sinful ways, and he tries to provoke feelings of hatred and anger from them. At one jarring point, a family literally beats a boy with the Bible, trying to assault the homosexuality out of him. It is appalling to witness all of Sykes and his bullying henchmen’s wrongdoings. While others try to get by and begrudgingly play the part, Jared bravely speaks out against their terrifying and unacceptable actions.
In his sophomore feature film endeavor as a writer, director, and co-star, Edgerton brilliantly takes viewers on Jared’s tumultuous journey by revealing his unspoken experiences to us. The life-like narrative follows Jared’s stream of consciousness. Homework assignments and camp conversations trigger intimate memories. We gain a vivid understanding of the traumatic obstacles he has impressively overcome. His humanity, strength, compassion, and perseverance is awe-inspiring.
Edgerton’s instinctive casting is a crucial part of his film’s emotional effectiveness. He had Hedges in mind from the start, never doubting that he would be able to portray Jared’s anguish with sophistication and sincerity. So much of Jared’s internal turmoil is delicately expressed by merely watching him think as he carefully weighs each life-changing decision.
“Edgerton solidifies his triple-threat status, artfully and intelligently crafting a film that resonates with viewers…”
Similarly, he saw something of Crowe and Kidman in Conley’s parents after spending some time with them. Only superior talents could convey the full spectrum of emotions the Eamons go through in this film. The preacher is not vilified merely for his beliefs. Nothing is black and white. These parents love their son and want what is best for him. However, their notion of what is best differs.
Crowe excels at juxtaposing stalwart convictions with tender vulnerability. Although the preacher’s beliefs do not waiver, his eyes well up as he struggles to reconcile his faith with the love he feels for his son. Kidman tugs on your heartstrings as she captures how many women feel. She dutifully falls in line and submissively supports her husband, until she sees what is happening to her son. When those Mama Bear instincts kick-in, Kidman gracefully takes command. You would expect nothing less from this powerhouse duo.
Boy Erased is a poignant family drama that explores the importance of unconditional love and acceptance of oneself and each other. Edgerton solidifies his triple-threat status, artfully and intelligently crafting a film that resonates with viewers and facilitates much-needed conversation during these trying times.
Boy Erased (2018) Written and directed by Joel Edgerton. Starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, and Joel Edgerton. Boy Erased screens at the 2018 Mill Valley Film Festival.
9.5 out of 10 stars