This year sees two films based on Christian gay conversion therapy camps. The recent Desiree Akhavan’s THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST follows a female survivor while BOY ERASED written and directed by Joel Edgerton sees a male counterpart. Both are excellent films. It is worthwhile to watch both films as the two films treat the material quite differently. But the aim of discrediting these camps is identical. And both films are based on true stories written into acclaimed novels. BOY ERASED is based on Garrard Conley’s memoir. Conley, who was present during the promo screening I attended mentioned the one incident that was changed in the film that Edgerton inserted for artistic purpose. Which I agree works.
BOY ERASED has as its subject the teenaged son of a Baptist pastor. Jared gets good grades, plays basketball, and is in a steady — but chaste — relationship with a girl from school. Everything in his life is going according to plan, until a college friend outs Jared as gay.
Jared (Lucas Hedges) is forced into a gay-conversion program by his parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe) – shown in the film as a very scary cloistered world of brainwashing.
Overseen by Victor Sykes (Edgerton, in a superbly cagey performance), the program’s bullying and bigotry fosters an environment that is anything but a refuge. Though Jared begins the program desperate to be healed, he begins to wonder about the validity of the program after witnessing a few terrible incidents.
Being based on real live events, what transpires on screen is realistically scary. One incident includes a suicide that occurs as a result of extreme psychological distress of the patients. What is moving about the story is the sincere love of Jared’s parents. Pastor Marshall loves his son but cannot accept that his son his gay. In the film’s most dramatic confrontational scene between father and son, Jared tells his father:”I am gay, deal with it!” Mother Nancy does what a wife should do but not what a mother should. She sides with her husband till she finally sees the light and switches to her son’s side. Kidman delivers an extraordinary performance as the mother. The parents are not the villains in this piece. (This issue is sidestepped in THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST as Cameron is an orphan.) Sykes is the villain, brainwashing the patients while preventing them from letting outsiders know what really goes on in the place. Sykes has no real qualifications either. The irony of all this is at present (according to the closing credits), Sykes is living with his new husband somewhere else in the U.S.
It is not doubt that BOY ERAESD is a dramatic film with a clear message about the survivors of these Christian therapy schools. In the words of the author Conley present at the promo screening, it is extremely disturbing to learn that many of these centres are still existing, even in New York City. Many states have already banned these centres.
BOY ERASED is a courageous film that demands to be seen. Writer/director Edgerton is straight but knows the urgency of the film’s message.