**Warning this review contains spoilers**
There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about. Boy Erased might just be the epitome of Oscar Wilde’s maxim. It hurts more to be ignored than to be discussed, and this film shows just why that is.
The general theme expressed in Joel Edgerton’s film is that uncertainty that can captivate the imagination for only so long, before truth must in some way, come out. Certain aspects of a person’s personality are not often revealed. For many members of the LGBT community, their sexuality is often something that is worn on their sleeves. So, when that component of their identity is challenged or erased, it becomes an erasure of the person. The only ones who are spoken about are the mountebanks that profit from such travesties that occur in the conversion therapy camps.
The concept of conversion therapy is not new and has been in circulation since the 19th century. Since its emergence, it has reached the film industry, with films taking strong polarizing stances such as Save Me and The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Conversely, Edgerton’s production has a softer approach to the harsh light of the reality that occurs in the camps. It is perhaps a more honest depiction of commentary on how both sides need to understand one another.
Australian director, Joel Edgerton recruits two first-rate name actors, Russell Crowe, and Nicole Kidman. These two actors play a religious family deep in Arkansas. Their traditional picture-perfect home is challenged when they discover that their golden child, Jared Eamons played by Lucas Hedges, might be a homosexual.
The uncertainty here lies within Jared since he is unsure if he is in fact gay. The way in which Jared embodies this reveals a truth that is nearly impossible for anyone who is not gay to replicate. The execution of just wanting to be “normal” when raised in a culturally traditional household and scared of feelings of desirability to others of the same sex creates an amazing performance.
Boy Erased captures the hardship, struggle, and disdain of being gay, while not being completely sure of what the term “gay” means. It simultaneously shows the truth from the perspective of the parents. Allowing viewers to see that when someone in the house is in pain, it hurts everyone in one way or another.
A scene portrays Jared in a church seat looking auspiciously suspicious as if he is holding a dark secret. The church is run by Marshall Eamons (Russell Crowe) a Baptist preacher who owns a Ford dealership. Jared’s secret remains throughout the narrative and his sexual identity remain unclear. The only direct scene of sexuality is one of a brutal, terrifying experience with a college crush, Henry (Joe Alwyn).
Henry takes Jared to his church, building a sense of friendship. Later, he goes back to Jared’s dorm and sleeps over and they are both unable to sleep. The scene leaves the audiences to believe a sweet moment will occur but instead perverts it with cruel, malice intent. Henry pulls Jared’s pants down, turns him over, and puts his hand over his mouth and forcefully rapes Jared. Afterward, Henry cries and apologizes to him for his actions, saying he does not understand what is wrong with him. After this ordeal, Henry, out of fear, calls Jared’s parents to out him.
When Jared’s mom, Nancy, hears of the news, she retreats and assumes her passive role as a housewife. Marshall takes on the active father role and asks for advice from those that have dealt with these problems before. Once Marshall gets confirmation as to what to do, he asks his son if a change is really what he wants to do about his problem. A conversion camp comes up as a possible solution. The camp is run by an ex-gay, Victor Sykes (Edgerton), and others who have overcome their homo-tendencies.
While at the camp, they are drilled with the idea of masculinity and its performance. The film brings to the forefront the misconception of masculinity being tied solely to heterosexuality. The mainstream media and other gays have amplified this exaggeration of homosexuality as strictly feminine.
While the movie does make a point of stressing masculine performance, it does show the spectrum of how some gays can pass. An example would be when a woman arranges the men in a row from masculine to feminine. Showing what masculinity looks like on a spectrum. This increases the visibility of feminine gays and their need to become more masculine for acceptance in society.
Certain gays, due to their personalities, voice, or mannerisms have a harder time just fitting in and being “normal.”
The fair and balancing act that Edgerton does in this film is to not alienate those that have and thought of conversion therapy — but instead invites the viewers to get informed. It reveals how there are gays that want to change, and perhaps do change, but how others do not. Instead of demonizing those that turn to the camps, it shows how even other gays will eat their own if it means a chance at passing and being seen as normal in society. Some gays even go as far as committing violence against other gays in order to convert them, showing the reality of how the gay community does not always agree with one another.
The end-game for the film is geared towards disseminating information to its viewers. This important work points out the errors in conversion therapy in a more hospitable method. Previous films have portrayed this information in a negative light, doing the thinking for the audience. Edgerton’s film, however, allows the viewers to understand and dismantle notions for themselves. This new technique opposes the sheer onslaught that other films have presented.
By highlighting the hatred towards gays who descend from mainstream beliefs and those who choose to go through the program the film explores a more neutral stance on storytelling. Thinking the audience is smart enough to make changes with more information, as the end credits suggest with their shocking statistics. Real change can only occur in the LGBT community when people get informed, no skullduggery here.
Life is strange, we cannot predict such things as tragedy, or bravery but though we may be unable to understand the events of the world we can change them. For if more people find out the truth of a subject the stronger the chances are of changing it. Perhaps with change, it will lead to less gay boys being erased from history and families. As a gay boy that has often been disowned from his family, it is a horrible feeling not being talked about with your family or friends.
Being in this situation where no one speaks about you or about your identity, you really do become a boy erased.
Boy Erased is currently playing in theaters nationwide.
What's Your Reaction?
Donnie Lopez is a gay Latino/Hispanic social and political commentator, writer, entertainment journalist, and professor. He writes on topics that affect Hispanic/Latino culture. With his novel insight, veracity, and sense of humor, he entertains as well as educates the world.