Telluride Review: ‘Boy Erased’ is a Complex Tale of Tribulation and Angst

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2018 TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL: For his second directorial effort, Joel Edgerton (“The Gift”) adapted Garrard Conley‘s conversion-therapy memoir, “Boy Erased,” and brought his film to Telluride for the world premiere.

Lucas Hedges stars as Jared Eamons (Conley’s character), the son of a small Arkansas town Baptist preacher, Marshall (Russell Crowe), and his supportive wife, Nancy (Nicole Kidman). Jared is struggling with the fact that he is attracted to men, something that, due to his environment and family upbringing, he must suppress. Jared’s internal struggle is compounded when he is involuntarily outed by a peer at college. His father – a fire and brimstone, Old Testament-style man of God – with the council of his clergymen, gives Jared the choice to participate in a rigorous, church-backed conversion therapy program or else be ostracized from his family. Overwhelmed with guilt, Jared chooses the program in hopes that he might truly be able to be saved.

Nancy is a very over-protective parent and is extremely sensitive to the situation and the toll it is taking on her son. She chooses to take Jared to therapy, spending additional time with him and acting as his life raft. Meanwhile, Marshall has the opposite reaction and chooses to disconnect himself from his son as he goes through this difficult time.

Aside from writing, directing, and producing the film, Edgerton also plays the self-anointed therapist, Victor Sykes, an imposing and pugnacious man who presides over the “Love in Action” facility that is run like a full-on cult (and deemed to be one by the American Psychiatric Society), with previously converted men assisting Sykes with the day-to-day lessons.

As Jared goes further down the rabbit hole, he begins to realize how damaging the therapy is for those involved. Being 19, Jared made the choice to admit himself, while many around him were underage and unable to make the decision for themselves. As he becomes more cognizant of what is going on around him, he seems to grow more comfortable in his own skin. The point finally comes where Jared must make the choice between his religious family and his true identity.

“Boy Erased” is evocative and provocative. Lucas Hedges gives a deeply sensitive, incendiary performance that is sure to be remembered as one of the best of the year. Joel Edgerton delivers a complex and unrelenting tale of tribulation and angst with his second feature film. The result is grade-A cinema, rich in subject matter that is sure to draw an emotional response and much-needed attention to the fact that conversion therapy is still a thing, or, for that matter, that it was ever a thing at all. When asked what he hoped people would take from the film, Edgerton answered that he hoped that Christian groups and youth groups that need to understand how wrong the process is would see it. His hope was to make the movie without painting any of the characters as a typical villain. He felt that it was actually more terrifying to show that those around Jared – his parents and Sykes, especially – were only trying to help him.

Conley added that he hoped the film would continue the conversation, and expressed his heartfelt gratitude for those who helped bring the movie to fruition. Kidman finished the presentation by stating that “love is the basis of all of it. There’s faith, there’s all different beliefs, but the underlying emotion is the love, and that’s what brings me to my knees. The more that is emphasized, because it is so complicated for some people, and that’s okay, but choose love.”

“Boy Erased” is distributed by Focus Features, and opens on Friday, November 2nd.

GRADE: (★½)

Be sure to check out the Official Oscar Predictions Page to see where “BOY ERASED” ranks among the contenders!