Movie Review: Boy Erased

2018's second film about conversion therapy moves viewers to tears and earns Golden Globe nominations

The screen goes black. Everyone holds their breath. Tears stream silently down my face. Real photos of Garrard Conley and his family smiling flash up on the screen. Then heartbreaking, true facts flash up on the screen. The final fact is that conversion therapy is still legal in 36 states. South Carolina is one of these  states. This means that there are 36 states in our country where it is still legal for individuals to be sent to camps where they can undergo practices to attempt to change them from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual.  Conversion therapy is the central conflict in the film Boy Erased which is based on Garrard Conley’s memoir by the same name.

Focus Features
Theodore Pellerin stars as “Xavier” and Lucas Hedges stars as “Jared” in Joel Edgerton’s BOY ERASED, a Focus Features release.

Boy Erased was not even the first film I saw about conversion therapy this year, illustrating the current attention on bringing awareness to the topic, but it is still just as important. The first film was The Miseducation of Cameron Post, centering around a teenage girl in the 90s forced to go to the conversion camp called ‘God’s Promise’ after she was caught kissing the prom queen. Boy Erased on the other hand gave a male perspective on the topic of conversion therapy, and it was based on the real life events of Garrard Conley.

This film follows the life of Jared Eamons (names were changed for the film), a typical teenage boy in a very religious family, as he is sent away to conversion therapy camp called The Refuge Program in Arkansas during his freshman year of college. His father, a preacher at a church in their town, decided that this was the best option for “saving” Jared after he was forced to come out to his family following an incident at college.

Although this was not the best film I’ve ever seen, I definitely believe personally that this is an important film to see because it starts a conversation about heavy topics such as conversion therapy and male rape. At the beginning of the movie, some of the exposition scenes dragged on as the filmmaker was trying to introduce the setting and atmosphere of the conversion therapy camp. In my opinion, these could have been shortened a bit in order to focus more on defining interactions with other characters later at The Refuge Program itself. My biggest problem with this movie though is how I felt is focused more on conversion therapy in general and how it affects everyone involved instead of just emphasizing the main character’s individual story. This film could have been anyone’s experience with conversion therapy and growing up in the south. I wish it had a few more defining characteristics about the main character himself. There is nothing wrong with choosing to focus on these things, it is just not what I expected going in to it.

This movie was carried by its strong acting though. Any movie staring powerhouses Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, and Joel Edgerton is certain to be fantastic, but throw in newcomer Lucas Hedges into the mix, and now you have an all star cast to be remembered. The 21 year old actor has been taking minor roles since 2007, but he really gained his footing in Hollywood in 2016 in Manchester by the Sea. Since then, he has been receiving more acting roles and recognition. He was even just nominated for best actor in a motion picture drama at the 2019 Golden Globe Awards for his role in Boy Erased. Hedges gives a breathtaking performance that left me with chills. He is able to perfectly depict the struggles of trying to understand sexuality, especially in a family that is not the most accepting about such subjects.

This film was also nominated at the Golden Globe Awards for best original song in a motion picture. Troye Sivan, who also stared in the film, and Jónsi created the song “Revelation” for the movie. This song fits the tone and messages of Boy Erased perfectly, so it is no surprise that is received a nomination as well. The song can be found multiple times throughout the film as well as the trailer and on iTunes.

Overall, Boy Erased works as a film to bring awareness to viewers about conversion therapy and the long-lasting effects it has on the children and parents involved. It also serves as a movie about familial relationships and understanding one’s sexuality. If you are a fan of sad indie films, check out this movie, and watch for it at the Golden Globe Awards in January.

Also check out http://www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/conversion_therapy for more information about conversion therapy and how to help end the practice.

Also here is the link to Boy Erased author Garrard Conley’s website with lots of other great resources: http://garrardconley.com

The cast of Boy Erased as well as Garrard Conley and his mother at the premiere of the film.

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