IT MIGHT be shocking to some people that this is still happening.
Gay conversion therapy sounds like something from yesteryear, a bizarre and dehumanising practice decades out of fashion, like racial segregation.
Yet, it’s still happening .
So the fact that there are two movies out this year about teen gay conversion shouldn’t really stun — it’s more a horrid reality that these films are still chillingly relevant.
Boy Erased is the second of these movies (The Miseducation of Cameron Post is the other), a haunting and emotionally resonant film starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, and directed by Joel Edgerton.
Based on the memoirs of American Garrard Conley, the film, set in the early 2000s, is centred on Jared Eamons (Hedges), a young man who grew up in a loving Baptist household. His father (Crowe) is the owner of a car lot and a preacher with traditional views while his mother (Kidman) is a supportive wife and mum.
Jared is a well-adjusted kid — his parents describe him as “fine, upstanding and honest” — but he’s also secretly gay, something that’s cemented for him when he goes to college.
When Jared is outed to his parents, they turn to other members of their church and decide to send him to conversion therapy, a program run by a man named Victor Sykes (Edgerton).
The program is what you expect, some bulls**t hodgepodge pop-psychiatry mixed in with bible-thumping, designed to its scare its participants “straight” with proclamations of eternal damnation.
Sykes is an old-school bully, banging the metaphorical and literal pulpit with his false message, trying to dominate vulnerable people, including characters played by Troye Sivan, Xavier Dolan and Jesse LaTourette.
While the interactions between the kids and Sykes are horrifying, it also doesn’t veer from what you’d expect in such scenes, its predictability one of the film’s flaws.
The most compelling aspect of Boy Erased comes from the relationships between Jared and his parents, especially his mother Nancy, thanks to a stunningly humanist performance from Kidman.
As a character, Nancy’s develops from a “good” woman who followed her husband’s edict to someone with the guts to challenge the establishment. It’s an extraordinary performance for Kidman, who never overplays something that could easily be trite.
It also grounds the idea that your parents can truly love and care for you and still put you through hell.
Similarly, Crowe’s role, albeit smaller, is imbued with so much empathy, it’s hard to look away.
Despite Hedges’ talent, if anyone, it’s Jared who feels emotionally distant from the audience — he feels like a character that’s only 80 per cent there. Ditto the rest of the kids forced into the conversion program.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post was able to bring some levity to an appalling experience and delved into the minds of the young characters better. And the satirical 1999 film But I’m A Cheerleader remains the exemplar of non-documentary conversion camp dramas.
But Edgerton has made an effective movie and a significant story with wonderfully rich performances — casting Kidman will automatically give you that — a movie that will stay with you.