A Reminder that LGBTQ+ People Will Not Be Erased
Based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir, Boy Erased is the seeming LGBTQ+ Oscar-bait film of 2018. Rather than a traditional storyline, the focus is on character and emotion without a shoehorned love story. It’s clear to see how performance was permitted to shine through a story about such a dark part of the United States. Boy Erased premiered on a rolling release beginning on the coasts, but as soon as I could, I rushed to the nearest theatre with my father in tow. I won’t put up a front for you: I sobbed. And I hope my dad isn’t mad when I say this, but I totally caught him wiping at his eyes, too. As someone who identifies as both bisexual and spiritual, this is a particularly moving film for me. I’m truly thankful to have parents who are accepting and open-minded, but as Boy Erased details, not everyone is as lucky. This is a film to watch with people that may get uncomfortable and allies alike because while they will see you cry (you can still be tough and cry, I promise), it also opens eyes as well as dialogues.
Ultimately, if you want a film that can do both (make you ugly cry and also feel warm through the winter), then Boy Erased is your proverbial boy.
The film follows Jared Eamon, played by Lucas Hedges – who the internet once joked was let out of A24’s basement to play yet another gay man, but not without protest from his cellmate: Timothée Chalamet.
lucas hedges and timothee chalamet are locked in a room in the basement of A24 living off of lacroix and cigarettes. the room has two walmart air mattresses and one copy of infinite jest
— alyssa (@alyssaraetho) July 24, 2018
Jared is forced by his parents into a gay conversion program: Love In Action. Hedges is an exceptional, emotional choice to play the dramatized version of Garrard Conley – his ability to remain soft in the face of absolute hatred makes every moment touching. Yet, he can still command the screen with brilliant moments of, something clearly not anger, but rather, frustration when he boils over.
The film begins in medias res, with the prior moments filled in through flashbacks. Through these the audience sees Jared navigating typical teenage emotional issues, but with the understanding, he is not straight. As he moves on to college, a fellow religious friend (Joe Alwyn), as ultimately a consequence of his own sexual repression, rapes and subsequently outs Jared to his parents. This the catalyst leading to Jared’s coerced enrollment at Love In Action. There Jared is met with tired and disproved rhetoric paired with both emotional and physical abuse. It is a harrowing look into a dangerous manifestation of extreme religious convictions and homophobic ideals still actively preached in 2018 as it was in 2004. And as the socially-conscious audience member is privy to, these things (to “fix” something unfixable) are harmful.
Boy Erased director Joel Edgerton, also plays as the head of Love In Action: Victor Sykes. His performance is both understated and intensely angering. I would be remiss to not mention his ability to both completely fly off the handle, startling the audience and remain uncomfortably calm during tense situations, startling the audience yet again. Sykes is the physical manifestation of the true antagonist of this story: hatred bred from ignorance.
Uncontestably one of the most gut-wrenching parts of the story is portrayed through Cameron (Britton Sear). Cameron is met with the brunt of Sykes abuse, and after helping Jared make his final escape from Love In Action, ultimately commits suicide. LGBTQ+ youth are already more than three times as likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual peers, with youth who experienced a lack of acceptance from family (such as conversion therapy) being another eight times more likely to attempt suicide. This is startling, but Cameron’s heartbreaking storyline has never been an anomaly.
Nicole Kidman’s performance as Nancy Eamon was one of the standout performances, and her ability to cry at the drop of a hat does not go underused. She is sympathetic toward her son, yet continuously falls in line with the religious crusader of a patriarch of the family, Marshall Eamon (Russell Crowe). He continuously falls prey toxic masculinity and religious extremism (although well-intended, in its own twisted way), which comes between him and his family. Ultimately, Nancy takes a powerful stand against her husband and asks her son for forgiveness for allowing other men to take his life into their hands.
In an overall, rather brief side story lies my favorite part of the entire film. There is a tender moment shared between Jared and a new acquaintance, Xavier (Théodore Pellerin), who asks Jared to stay the night with him, promises nothing has to happen, and gently comforts Jared saying: “I’ll prove that God won’t strike you down.” Jared ultimately agrees, lies in bed next to Xavier, simply holds his hand, and goes no further.
These scenes are punctuated by Troye Sivan and Jónsi’s “Revelation,” which has real potential to win Best Original Song at the 91st Oscars. Troye Sivan also plays Gary: an example of a strong-willed minor forced into this therapy, and willing to give up his family one day to live his truth. This moment is completely non-sexual and instead is entirely innocent, which gives a demonstration that these feelings are just as pure as those of a heterosexual couple. It is refreshing to see a completely innocent representation of queer romantic feelings, as heterosexual people have had for years.
Thankfully, the film ends on a soft-sided note. Jared has moved to New York City and written a successful article exposing these programs. Nancy has stopped going to church where her domineering husband preaches, in apparent solidarity with her son. Upon Marshall finally reading the article after refusing to do so or take accountability, and just as tears begin to well up in his eyes, Jared extends an open arm; showing more strength in the ideals his father preaches than the pastor himself.
Outside of the fact that this film lacks a strength in cinematography (but easily makes up for it in the story, the cast’s collective performance, and raw emotion), my biggest gripe of this remarkable film is that there is no explicit notion by any character that sexuality is not a choice. In a time of so much political polarization, it is important to take a clearly defined stance regarding LGBTQ+ issues. The film is filled with people who have been “fixed” and desperate to be “fixed” or people like Gary who don’t want to be “fixed” yet, not once is it explicitly said it cannot be fixed. This is something subtly implied but, especially as Jared finally confronts his father, leaves the audience left wanting more.
Boy Erased is of the most emotionally taxing films I’ve seen in 2018. I left the theatre feeling completely drained. There are glimmers of hope within the film, but the fact that it is still legal in 36 states quickly stamps the majority of that out. This film draws attention to this issue as well as suicide among LGBTQ+ youth and the dangers of sexual repression, which in today’s society are all important topics to discuss with an open dialogue. I highly recommend seeing and supporting this film, if not only to spread the message but to offer even further representation of queer people within Hollywood. Not only is it a beautifully written and acted film, but for the LGBTQ+ community, it also means progress, exposure, and revelations.
It is still legal in 34 states across the United States, including Indiana, to force a minor into gay conversion therapy. This is not just a statistic but is also over 700,000 individual faces that have been affected by this and an estimated 80,000 more in the coming years. Please, allow this film to upset you and make you emotional; then get involved to help put an end to conversion therapy. To learn more and how you can help, check out The Trevor Project’s campaign 50 Bills 50 States on their website.