Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is the son of a conservative Bapist preacher (Russell Crowe) and his compliant Southern wife (Nicole Kidman). When an assault leads to his parents becoming aware of his sexuality, Jared is sent to a gay conversion camp called Love in Action. Here his initial desire to change turns to horror and anger as he is faced with the brutal and questionable methods employed by the camp’s leader, Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton) and his “counsellors”.
Boy Erased is a truly upsetting look at an attempt to erase the identity of an entire sector of the population. To anyone who has grown up or who lives in a fairly diverse society the idea that sexuality is a choice or can be changed is abhorrent. But this film is a reminder that many people feel completely differently.
Seeing the journey that Jared goes through from being almost unwilling to admit even to himself that he is gay, to trying to invest into the programme to try, to realising that he is experiencing and witnessing torture is very compelling. Hedges gives a totally believable performance.
He is not the only one on a journey though. His mother, Nancy, too must decide where her loyalties lie and what her beliefs are. The relationship between mother and son is critical to the story and Kidman does well in her role. She is ably supported by Russell Crowe who embodies the stalwart and passionate pastor. What is most interesting is that there is no question that Jared’s parents love him and their intentions are to give him the best possible future. The problem is that their belief system is so rigid that they can’t conceive of a different alternative.
Joel Edgerton can be a bit wooden but he does an excellent job with the aggressive, abusive Sykes. it is not surprising as he adapted the screenplay and directed. Sykes is a man obviously tortured by his own sexuality and taking this out on the attendees of his programme. The money making element of it is very sinister and he is an utterly loathsome character, as is his “enforcer”, Brandon (Flea).
My only criticism is that I think the film could have gone further. While what happens at Love in Action is disturbing it feels like the tip of the iceberg and that much worse things are happening in these kinds of places. It is based on a true story though so I suppose it depends on how much creative license one should take.
This is not a film you’re likely to enjoy but it is still highly recommended.