Monday, December 10, 2018

Boy Erased

Starring: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Joel Edgerton, Russell Crowe
Director: Joel Edgerton
Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Rating: R

This film is a heartbreaking story, unveiling some pretty shocking material. Lucas Hedges stars as Jared in "Boy Erased", a film based on a memoir of the same name by Garrard Conley. In the movie, Jared is a young man coming to terms with his homosexuality in a very rural and conservative Arkansas, under the roof of his very straight-laced, fundamentalist parents. When confronted by them after a startling accusation, Jared agrees to attend a gay conversion therapy camp. He honestly seems like he wants to change for his parents and for society, to make his life a little easier down the road. After a grueling few days with camp director Victor Sykes (played scarily well by screenplay writer and director Joel Edgerton), Jared learns that this place is not helping anybody. In fact, it's doing just the opposite. At the end of the film, the audiences learns that 36 states still allow gay conversion therapy.

We learn about Jared and his homosexuality through flashbacks. He turns down his girlfriend's advances, he looks longingly at other men, and while he portrays a spirit of athleticism and masculinity, he is sensitive, thoughtful and introspective. He has a great relationship with his mom, played by Nicole Kidman (who is having the best years of her career) and a seemingly good relationship with his pastor father, played by Russell Crowe in a very convincing performance (a 180 from his turn as Javert in Les Mis, thankfully!) When Jared admits his truth, his parents react in the only way they know how: we must help him change.

Arriving at gay conversion therapy camp, for Jared, is like walking into a prison: young men and women are wearing uniforms, personal belongings are confiscated and staff are like security guards, monitoring your every move - including bathroom breaks. Several camp participants offer Jared advice like "play the part" and "fake it 'til you make it" - whether or not you believe you can change, do what it takes to survive and get out of there. It's up to camp director Victor Sykes as to when you can leave, and at one point, he tells Jared that staying another year at camp would be a better choice for him, as opposed to returning to college. Jared also witnesses Sykes physically and verbally abusing a young man who refuses to participate in a group exercise. Over time, Jared wises up to the truth about Sykes and this program, and chooses to leave, regardless of what that means for his relationship with his family.

This film handles such delicate subject matter very well. All lead actors were believable and while Hedges is indeed the star, his supporting cast of camp mates deliver empathetic performances. This film made me angry, but also more informed. Don't see it unless you're prepared to stomach some disturbing ideas about our society.

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