Joel Edger­ton crafts a sen­si­tive me­moir

Shanghai Daily - - FILM - Lind­sey Bahr

THE movie “Boy Erased” is based on the true story of a young man, Gar­rard Con­ley, whose Bap­tist fam­ily put him in a con­ver­sion ther­apy cen­ter to “cure” his ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity when he was just 19 years old.

Con­ley wrote about his ex­pe­ri­ences in a me­moir, which writer-di­rec­tor-ac­tor Joel Edger­ton has adapted for the screen in a man­ner that is ad­mirably and al­most rad­i­cally em­pa­thetic to all its char­ac­ters — even the vil­lains.

In the film, the pro­tag­o­nist is called Jared Ea­mons, giv­ing a lit­tle dis­tance per­haps from the real life sub­jects.

He is played with deep soul­ful­ness by the tal­ented ac­tor Lu­cas Hedges who has yet to meet a role he can’t con­quer. His par­ents are Mar­shall Ea­mons (Rus­sell Crowe), a re­spected lo­cal pas­tor and car sales­man in Arkansas, and Nancy Ea­mons (Nicole Kid­man), a du­ti­ful wife and car­ing mother with a pen­chant for taste­fully be­daz­zled cloth­ing.

They’re the kind of fam­ily who, when pre­sented with the in­for­ma­tion that their only son might be gay, aren’t just op­posed to the idea, but be­lieve deep down that it’s a sin, a choice, and an af­flic­tion that can be cured, on par with things like do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, al­co­holism and pe­dophilia.

But they’re also the kind of fam­ily who be­lieves that this men­tal­ity comes from love, not in­tol­er­ance or prej­u­dice.

And so, af­ter some tears and con­sult­ing with lo­cal men of the church who have “dealt” with things like this be­fore, Mar­shall de­cides to ship Jared off to con­ver­sion ther­apy to be fixed in a pro­gram run by a man named Vic­tor Sykes (played by Edger­ton him­self).

This is not to say that the film doesn’t have a point of view, it just doesn’t rush to de­mo­nize the peo­ple putting Jared in this sit­u­a­tion.

The ad­min­is­tra­tors at the cen­ter (in­clud­ing Flea as an ex-con there to mus­cle the kids into sub­mis­sion) do that well enough on their own, and with­out ex­ter­nal em­bel­lish­ment or con­trivances.

The story is told in real time pep­pered with var­i­ous flash­backs as Jared wres­tles with what he’s been through (in­clud­ing an in­cred­i­bly trau­matic and up­set­ting in­ci­dent that I won’t say any­thing more about here), what he’s felt and what he wants to do.

We don’t get much of Jared’s in­ter­nal mono­logue, but there is the sense that there is real con­flict in him.

He’s a good kid who is used to pleas­ing his par­ents, and now, through no fault of his own, he has man­aged to dis­ap­point them and he car­ries that shame.

The cen­ter de­volves into a place of hor­rors as the weeks go on, but there is a glint of hope as Nancy, who is stew­ard­ing her son to and from the ses­sions while they stay in a lo­cal ho­tel, starts to read up on their philoso­phies and tech­niques.

It’s an arc that I didn’t see com­ing, and one that jus­ti­fies why some­one as bril­liant as Kid­man was nec­es­sary.

Even Crowe, who is mostly ab­sent, gets his own few min­utes of af­fect­ing emo­tion by the end.

You do wish you got to know ev­ery­one a lit­tle bet­ter, es­pe­cially Jared’s ther­apy-mates (Troye Sivan, Jesse LaTourette, Britton Sear among them) but the film keeps the viewer at a bit of a dis­tance.

For Edger­ton as a writer and di­rec­tor, “Boy Erased” is very strong, al­beit less flashy, fol­low-up to his first film “The Gift,” a taut thriller that couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent from this one.

“Boy Erased” is un­doubt­edly more im­por­tant, how­ever, and even though it might be dif­fi­cult to watch at times, it’s done with such ev­i­dent love and sen­si­tiv­ity that it’s hard to imag­ine a hu­man be­ing not con­nect­ing in some way, and per­haps even learn­ing some­thing along the way.

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