Boy Erased Brings the Reality of Gay Conversion Therapy into the Light (Warning: Spoilers)
Boy Erased follows the story of Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) who is growing up gay in a heavily religious environment. He is made to attend the ‘Love in Action’ gay conversion therapy assessment programme in 2004, by his parents Marshall Eamons (Russell Crowe), a car dealer and Baptist preacher in Arkansas and Nancy Edwards (Nicole Kidman) a hair stylist. The programme is operated by Chief “therapist” Victor Sykles (Joel Edgerton, who also directs), who tells the young people on the programme that their sexuality is a sin and a life choice, comparing it to committing crimes and abusing people.
The story is based on the real life experiences of LGBTQ Advocate Garrard Conley, with the film drawing on his memoir of the same name released in 2016. Garrard has since also released a four-part podcast series ‘Boy Un-Erased’ which was released to coincide with the film’s release in the United States last year. The podcast covers not only Garrard’s story, but traces the history of gay conversion therapy since its inception to the current day. At present there are only 15 states in America which have banned the practice, with New York becoming the latest earlier this year, joining the likes of Delaware, New Jersey, New Mexico and Hawaii. It means there are still 35 states in which the practice is perfectly legal. It is thought that at least 700,000 young people have been subjected to gay conversion therapy. The political climate in the United States at the moment makes it difficult to hope for any more progress in this area, especially considering the current U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has openly advocated for gay conversion therapy, and his wife teaches at a school which has expressed anti-LGBTQ sentiment in the past. Furthermore, so called “religious freedom” bills are being introduced, which essentially allows people to discriminate on the basis of sexuality or gender identity based on religious belief.
Elsewhere the Australian government in Victoria have started plans to go as far as to criminalising the practice, the first group of lawmakers to propose it. This is the direction I believe should be taken, I feel simply banning the practice does not go far enough. Meanwhile in the United Kingdom a new “equality plan” could see the practice banned. In the U.K. with a national survey of 108,000 LGBTQ people finding that 2% have undergone the practice with another 5% being offered it. That percentage may sound small but it equates to 5,000 people who have gone through this, and that’s just a small sample of LGBTQ people.
I feel the film itself delivers the reality of gay conversion therapy well and really invoked anger in me at the bigotry and ignorance that these young people were subjected to. In one scene a young man is beaten with a bible in front of his family, the “therapist” then instructs his family to smack him with the bible, even going as far as getting his little sister, who is around 6 years-old to do it as well. The film portrays physical and psychological abuse at the hands of those running the programme. The ultimate tragedy of what gay conversion therapy can result in was explored, with one of the young people eventually deciding to take his own life. This forms my basis for why I think the practice should not only be banned, but made illegal. The fact that young people are being essentially bullied to death is a stain on our society, and the film makes sure that this point is hit hard.
I found the way the director was subtle in showing the hypocrisy of Sykes and Jared’s father was very well done. In one particular scene Jared is berated by his father and he begins retreating upstairs, his Dad violently grabs his arm to which Jared shouts “you’re hurting me!”. Jared finally gets upstairs and starts playing the “violent” video game ‘Mortal Kombat’. His Dad walks in and begins to explain how sinful Jared is daring to play games with such violence, despite the violence he had just inflicted on his son. I laughed out loud at the hypocrisy of certain scenes, it would be a comedy if it wasn’t so serious for the young people who were subjected to this abusive practice. One moment in particular really got me. During a group session the teens are told that being gay is a sin. The group leader gives the example of being a footballer and states “if you decide to stop playing football, you are choosing not to be a footballer” and then says the same can be done with sexuality. Safe to say I burst out laughing at how utterly ridiculous this notion is. I don’t actually know how the “therapists” on the programme managed to say these stupid things keeping a straight face, the utter delusion is off the scale.
The film gives you goosebumps at the point when Jared finally has enough and realises that the programme is a fraud. When he fights against the “therapist” Sykes telling him that he was the one making him angry not his sexuality, I wanted to stand in the cinema and applaud at that point. Throughout the film you were just willing Jared on and pleading with him to see that what was going on was wrong, and that his feelings were perfectly normal, so the pay off at the end gives you a feeling of relief and euphoria that Jared has finally taken control of the situation and is proud to be a gay man. On Jared’s final day at the programme he frantically calls his mother, who has also seen the programme for what it is, she come for him and shouts “shame on you” to Sykes, then upon getting in the car and driving away proceeds to say to herself “and shame on me too” as she realises the error of her ways. It’s safe to say that I don’t really need to point out that Nicole Kidman was absolutely stunning in the role, but these motherly roles are the kind that fit Kidman like a glove as we have seen in other films such as ‘Lion’. On the topic of performances, the film confirmed to me that Troye Sivan needs to be in more films!
It always brings warmth to me when I see same sex relationships and love brought to the mainstream, on the big screen, and treated with tenderness and respect. The film portrays Jared’s intimate encounter with an art dealer, with the pair lying with each other on the bed, it was such a nice scene with no air of “this is wrong” to it, which is exactly how it should be. So the film isn’t just a horror show of gay conversion therapy, there are moments when same sex love is brought to the forefront and portrayed in a shiningly positive light.
Boy Erased is out now in U.K. cinemas (Released February 8th), but due to the films limited release may not be out for long. In the United States the film is available on digital download now.