Boy Erased unfortunately arrives amid escalating patterns of US government-sanctioned violence against the LGBT community. It is, in part, another of Hollywood’s based-on-a-true story films in reaction to the Trump administration and its war on culture. Hidden Figures (2017), Green Book and On the Basis of Sex (the latter two are both in cinemas now) all provide insights into the hypocrisies and failures of racism and gender discrimination, screaming in bold fonts and neon lights that we have been here before and we can almost certainly go there again.
Boy Erased is the latest addition to this family of films and focuses its energy on heteronormativity. Based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir, the film tells the story of Jered Eamons (Lucas Hedges), a young gay man who is born and raised in a heavily religious community in Arkansas. We meet him as he prepares to enrol in ‘Love is Action’, a gay conversion therapy course, which has been arranged by his parents; Baptist preacher Marshall (Russell Crowe) and mother, Nancy (Nicole Kidman). Here, Jared is taught how to stand, walk and play sport like a ‘man’, all under the mantra ‘fake it ‘til you make it’.
Unlike similar narratives in the past, in which religious parents are portrayed as backward Bible bashers, or the anti-gay antagonists this film doesn’t shove simplified stereotypes down your throat. In fact, the nuanced depictions of the main characters and their often identifiable motivations, are what makes this story so eerily familiar and uncomfortable to watch.
Although Joel Edgerton’s second directorial effort is nothing like the psychological thriller The Gift; there were a few scenes in which the audience may as well have been watching a horror film. Nausea, panic and claustrophobia are are provoked in the audience as this true story painfully unfolds in a series of flashbacks which reveal deeply disturbing moments of Jared’s past. Hedges gives a phenomenal portrayal of the process of isolation, and of a man who is struggling to reconcile his faith and, quite frankly, his life with his sexuality.
There are elements of the film that are perhaps a little predictable. Editor Jay Rabinowitz delivers dramatic moments with affected slow motion, which frequently distracts from the hard-hitting, organic drama of the piece. Similarly the cinematographer, Eduard Grau, demonstrates Jared’s confusion to us by shooting in de-saturated, flat colours. Despite the symbolic obviousness, the film does provide a harrowing and raw account of the discrimination many individuals across the world have experienced in their lifetime.
With gay conversion therapy still legal in the UK and 41 US states, this story is not just a historical excavation of the past but also a plea to change our future.
Image credit: Movie DB