Chew's Review - Boy Erased

By Gary Chew | November 10, 2018 |  

Now playing | 

When a film deals with religious belief and presents it with a strong polemical thrust, any review of the picture should proceed with a certain amount of caution. Putting down a religion or belief in something held sacred is not appropriate for me, whether I agree with the film's message or not. BOY ERASED does come down very hard upon evangelistic fundamentalist Christian tenets … from a secular, humane point of view.  

Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is a teenager living in northern Arkansas. His father, Marshall (Russell Crowe) is a Southern Baptist preacher. Jared's mother is Nancy Eamons (Nicole Kidman). Reverend and Mrs. Eamons are made aware by another young man who's angry with their son that Jared is gay. Totally astounded ... for sure.  

The Eamons love their son and have brought him up as good parents do, but the accusation leveled at the boy is something out of the blue for them. Nancy is distraught and disappointed, while Marshall recoils between two emotions: total flabbergastion … if there is such a word ... and non-violent, but deep anger directed at his boy. After a great expenditure of emotions among the family, Marshall ... with Nancy's slightly tenuous backing ... forces Jared into conversion therapy with the Memphis branch of “Love In Action.” The Christian-based psychological process is affiliated with Reverend Eamons church. (I often call such social re-conditioning as “Get That Gay Out Of Yourself Or Else.”)
The lead man at the Memphis “therapy” center for homosexuals who “aren't” gay is a “gentlemen” by the name of Victor Sykes. He's played by Joel Edgerton, who directed and adapted the script from an autobiographical memoir written by Garrard Conley. Victor and his attendants at the dorm-like venue, where the mostly male “patients” stay, are much like the drill sergeants I recall when I was in basic recruit training in the US Army. I remember seeing Edgerton in a couple of movies: LOVING and RED SPARROW  with Jennifer Lawrence.

Sykes is full of “Jesus” … and a steely authoritarian on the job for his god. He says he loves all of his charges, who seem nigh on to actually being prisoners: expected to abide by a strict and lengthy roster of rules .. or else. Many of these sequences are, as we might say, “not pretty.”

One scene in BOY ERASED that stood out for me shows Jared seated at a physician's desk. She's Dr. Muldoon (Cherry Jones). The doctor tells Jared that his parents want her to draw some of his blood to check his testosterone levels. Then she says something I felt important, “I know you're a perfectly normal, healthy teen-aged boy. I also know your testosterone levels will be fine.” Dr. Muldoon goes on to tell him she believes in God, but she also believes in science, keeping the two sort of separated. It's the first inkling, yet well in Jared future, to suggest what path the Eamons boy, son of a Baptist preacher, will take.

Getting to the point of decision is terribly difficult for Jared, Nancy and Marshall. Much of the film's strength flows from this painful familial exercise. The picture's value likely lies in the fact that such issues are terribly common anywhere ... but seldom, if ever discussed.  

The cast is laden with Oscar wins or nominations for previous performances. Hedges, Kidman, and Crowe show the acting stuff they're made of. And Edgerton is with them all the way their director, script adapter and solid supporting performer. Time well spent is what you're awarded when seeing BOY ERASED.

One more thing: Garrard Conley has a podcast called UNERASED. He teaches English Literature in Sofia, Bulgaria. He's also a survivor.

Copyright © 2018 by Gary Chew. All rights reserved.  


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