Lucas Hedges is here to break your heart, again. This time in Boy Erased, a harrowing chronicle of gay conversion therapy in America. The picture follows Jared Eamons through a 12-day immersive faith-based program that purports to fix that which is wrong with him. In this case, that alleged “wrong” is his attraction to men. It’s the kind of drama that was made for fall viewing. It’s heart-wrenching and beautifully acted and there’s a good chance you’ll feel worse walking out of it than you did walking into it. That Boy Erased is based on a true story from the very recent past makes that last bit even more true.
Here’s the rub. We meet Jared checking into the program, and we learn his story bit-by-bit via flashbacks. We learn that Jared has scarcely had the space to consider his own desires when he finds himself thrust from one traumatic experience directly into a conflict with his parents. In particular, his father, a minister, who would rather summon church elders to decide his son’s fate than have an honest conversation with his child. If this reaction feels horrific, it’s nothing to what we see of Victor Sykes’ (Joel Edgerton) program. The flagrant lies, the hate, the absurd exercises, it’ll make your skin crawl more than Hereditary and Suspiria combined. And that is saying something.
This visceral reaction is largely due to the material we’re witnessing, but proper credit must be given to Lucas Hedges and Nicole Kidman who make the whole thing painfully, searingly real. Neither of them is overselling anything, rather, they are acting with honesty and confidence, knowing they don’t need to manufacture a big moment when this is the story they’re telling.
Boy Erased is a tough sit, but there’s something tremendously rewarding in the telling of this story. From 2018, it can feel like we’re far from this kind of bigotry and hate, but the early aughts were not so very long ago — and this kind of treatment is still legal and still happening in many parts of the country. Here’s hoping Boy Erased, like The Misadventures of Cameron Post earlier this year, will keep the conversation alive and change happening.