Boy Erased is the story of Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges), a young man who “confesses” to his parents that he is gay, after some coercion by them in the light of raised suspicions. Upon hearing this, his father (Russell Crowe), who serves as a local Arkansas preacher, recommends an immersive gay conversion therapy program to change Lucas’ immoral predisposition. Lucas agrees to the treatment, and obediently attends the sessions under the radical direction of Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton). Soon after starting, Lucas begins to question the methods of the program to his mother (Nicole Kidman).
What works in Boy Erased are the performances and ensuing credibility. Hedges presents himself as a quiet, conflicted person, but not one who is weak or cowardly. His portrayal of Lucas relies heavily on well-chosen words and facial expressions that reflect inner turmoil, rather than unnecessary external exposition. Lucas is relatable. He is trying desperately not to disappoint those around him, but also does not have a desire to betray himself. He has an open mind, but ever so subtly reminds us that having an open mind does not equate to falling in line.
Members of the supporting cast of Boy Erased are all equally strong, from minor to major roles. Kidman has a particularly interesting arc as the person who wants to do what is best and right for her son. She is placed in a unique situation as the person Lucas spends the majority of his time with outside therapy hours, as they are forced to share a hotel room during their out-of-town stay. Crowe also shines in his limited screen-time as Lucas’ disappointed father, seeking easy answers and solutions to the “problem” of having a son act in a manner that contradicts his core religious beliefs. Writer/director Edgerton successfully paints the Eamons family as a complex dynamic, but one with love at its center, making the interactions feel incredibly realistic and true.
While Boy Erased’s foundation is built upon incredibly well-crafted characters, audiences should note that the material is justifiably disturbing given the mental anguish many of the young men and women are forced to endure. This is certainly purposeful, as Boy Erased’s intention is to educate people about the atrocities and horrors of these gay therapy programs, but watchers should at least be aware of the film’s heavy nature.
From a structural point of view, Boy Erased may be trying to juggle too many narratives. Edgerton strives to give a comprehensive look at who Lucas is, and what Lucas endures, but has trouble deciding on the lens through which to tell the story—the program, or his insistent inflexible father that placed him there. As a result, despite having one of the most powerful sequences in the film, Boy Erased’s fourth act feels a little too forced and tacked on, but it’s forgivable given Edgerton’s desire to tie all loose ends up.
Boy Erased is an important film that sheds light on inequality, and how the majority often tries force conformity. Furthermore, these pushes often stem from inside the home, from parents who are supposed to love their kin unconditionally for who they are. Boy Erased highlights and represents the courageous struggle countless young men and women have had endure as they discover who they truly are in a wonderful, if not heartbreakingly honest, way.
Recommended if you enjoyed: Moonlight, Call Me By Your Name, Love, Simon
Final Grade: A-
Possible Academy Award Nominations:
- Best Actor in a Leading Role – Lucas Hedges
- Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Nicole Kidman
- Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Russell Crowe
- Best Adapted Screenplay – Joel Edgerton