Boy Erased is a sincere and empathetic look at source material that is enraging.
Director: Joel Edgerton
Summary: A Baptist preacher and his wife forces their son to participate in a church-supported gay conversion program.
It can be hard to separate the fictional narrative of a movie from the reality it portrays. This can be both good and bad. Some things in movies are meant to be very personal, particularly when it comes to films based on real events, because you might know someone who went through something similar. Or maybe it’s similar to something in your life. Either one of those things might be the case for Boy Erased, a stark look at the reality of gay conversion camps.
That reality is the very thing that could cause some people to walk out of the theater angry. As the credits roll we are informed that these camps have had an impact on 700,000 million people and are not illegal despite all that we just watched. It’s enough to make your blood boil if that is a trigger for you. Knowing that this is still happening to someone could be the thing to push you over the line.
Or maybe the subject matter won’t make you angry but sad. We watch a family unit dissolve in a way that will be all too familiar to people in the LQBTQ+ community. A father (Russell Crowe) and a mother (Nicole Kidman) find out their college-bound son Jared (Lucas Hedges) is gay. They tell him that unless he “fixes” it, he’ll be kicked out of his family. He’ll lose everything. That is an ultimatum that some kids are presented with every single day. While it is presented as his choice to attend this camp, it really isn’t, and that makes it all the more heartbreaking or infuriating.
Director Joel Edgerton adapted this material from the memoir by Garrard Conley, who wrote the New York Times article that kicked off the real backlash against these camps. Edgerton clearly has a lot of respect for Conley’s book because although he’s not LQBTQ+ himself, the movie feels entirely sincere if a little formulaic. We’re not really here to have our minds blown by a new storytelling structure, but more to sit and listen. This movie is here to present something that happened, and that continues to happen, and doesn’t sugarcoat the ending.
This isn’t a movie with a truly happy ending either, because there often aren’t happy endings in such situations. The question of whether someone will stand up for Jared lingers over the entire film with the very real implication that, for some of these kids, no one ever will.
Boy Erased will likely trigger an extreme reaction from many of those who watch it. For some it will be sadness, for others it will evoke emotional memories. And for many, it will provoke an anger that this continues to happen. This was a difficult movie to review for such reasons. But such reactions make this an important movie that everyone should seek out immediately.
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[Note: I was one of the people who walked away from this movie so angry I could barely see straight. I wanted to skirt around that anger in my review but having a reaction, good or bad, is the point of media. This movie is honest so I decided to present my reaction to it honestly.]