Based on the memoir of Garrard Conley, Boy Erased is a compilation of Conley’s experience with conversion therapy during his college years. Raised as a Southern Baptist pastor’s son, with the teaching that homosexuality is a sin, Conley was also raised to respect his parents and the truth. So when he is confronted with a false narrative of his reality and told to blame others, he must find another way to handle his situation.
Trigger warning for the theater goers: This film has a rape and suicide.
The opening scene is footage of Garrard Conley as a preschooler – full of life and boisterous. From there on you know this is about every child hoping to make his parents proud, despite what they want for themselves.
Conley’s parents are played by Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, who need no resume introduction. Crowe reportedly stole away from the film set to visit Pastor Conley’s church, without warning, during a service. He wanted to get a feel for the man first hand. Conley as a young man is played by Lucas Hedges, who most recently starred in Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri and Lady Bird. He was also nominated for his supporting role in Manchester by the Sea.
Boy Erased’s most striking attribute is its kindness and compassion for everyone. Despite the subject matter, there is no holier than thou scolding or stereotypes, and no heated protests on the National Mall. Slow at times, the film works tirelessly to make sure no sharp edges harm viewers on either side of the controversy.
In Conley’s own words, “It is my hope that the Boy Erased film continues the project of my memoir. By telling my story, we want to give words of solidarity to those who have experienced conversion therapy. But equally important to our project is the question of how this kind of bigotry can be perpetuated by people who, at their core, love one another. We hope to provide some context for viewers to understand that these kinds of social injustices aren’t always carried out by monsters, but by people close to us, tragic figures whose decency is often outstripped by their actions.”
This film shows immense courage – the courage of a young man to live his truth, despite his upbringing and despite everything he was told to believe to save himself. Courage was also shown by film maker and screenplay writer, Joel Edgerton. He had the courage to not bring fellow Aussie, blockbuster actors Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, to center stage. Nor does Edgerton bring undue attention to his own character, Sykes, the leader of the therapy group. The director lets Lucas Hedges’ subtle and superb interpretation of Conley, reign over the whole story.
Garrard Conley’s memoir “Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family” was first published in 2016. Conley currently lives in New York City with his husband. Despite being condemned by most medical and psychiatric professional organizations, parents can legally force conversion therapy upon minors in most states. More often than not, the groups are not overseen by licensed medical or psychological professionals. It is estimated that over 700,000 people have been subjected to conversion therapy.
Boy Erased opens in theaters nationwide on November 2, 2018.
Photo Source: Kyle Kaplan / Focus Features