The tortuous turmoil of Garrard Conley’s ‘homosexual conversion’ therapy ordeal is chronicled in Australian filmmaker Joel Edgerton’s respectful drama.
After struggling with insecurities about his sexuality for years, 19 year-old Jared Conley (Lucas Hedges) was outed as gay to his devout, conservative Southern Baptist parents, Nancy (Nicole Kidman) and Marshall (Russell Crowe) Eamons.
“Do you swear to God you’re not gay?” his stern Arkansas pastor father, who owns a Ford dealership, asks him.
“No, I can’t do that,” frightened Jared confesses. “Because I do have those feelings.”
At his parents’ insistence, Jared begins conversion therapy at the Memphis-based ministry Love in Action detention facility, where sinister therapist Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton) claims sexuality is a choice, influenced by poor parenting. He urges attendees to embark on secretive “moral inventories” of themselves and their families.
During indoctrination, flashbacks reveal that Jared had disturbing homosexual encounters during his freshman year in college. And there’s a cruel ordeal as another young man, Cameron (Britton Sear), is openly humiliated by Sykes, forcibly dunked in a bathtub, subjected to a fake funeral, and beaten with Bibles by therapists and his own family.
When Sykes summons Jerrod in front of the group, he denies that he hates his father and sneaks out to defiantly phone his protective mother to take him home. Soon after, Jared discovers that Cameron committed suicide while still in the program, and his mother eventually apologizes for her complicity in condemning him.
Based on Garrard Conley’s revelatory 2016 memoir, the leaders of many conversion therapy groups were fired. Indeed, after leaving the now-defunct Love in Action, repressed Sykes came ‘out’ and married another man.
Adapted with obviously noble intentions by writer/director/actor Joel Edgerton (who changed the characters’ names), it tackles a timely, controversial issue with admirable, if understated emotional depth. Pop star Troye Sivan and Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan play strategic supporting parts.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Boy Erased is a thoughtful, sensitive 7, aimed particularly at parents/families with LGBTQ children