‘Erased’ a graceful drama
‘Boy Erased’ a graceful drama about conversion therapy
“Boy Erased” is a horrifying and sad movie about conversion therapy. Yet the film starring Lucas Hedges unfolds with grace and compassion.
During a session at the conversion-therapy camp that serves as much of the background for “Boy Erased,” we see a group of young men going through essentially a masculinity boot camp. Don’t sit with your legs crossed, they are told. Watch your hand movements. Stand this way, not that way. It’s horrifying, sad and darkly comic all at the same time.
Those moments are among the most striking in the film, which is directed with tasteful restraint by Joel Edgerton. Scenes like those, which could go wildly broad or horror-movie dark, do neither. Instead the movie, based on Garrard Conley’s memoir, unfolds with a graceful kind of starkness.
Arkansas college student Jared (Lucas Hedges) is our entry into this world. After he is sexually assaulted by a male friend on campus, he is outed to his parents. Marshall (Russell Crowe), his father, is a Baptist minister who runs a car dealership; mom Nancy (Nicole Kidman) listens to country music and appears generally happy to do whatever her husband says. When he decides the best course of action is to send Jared to the eerily named Love in Action, she acquiesces.
Edgerton also plays Victor Sykes, who serves as director of the camp. Initially, Victor seems wildly misguided — homosexuality is a choice, he opines — but as Jared gets further into treatment, his behavior slides deeper into scary abuse, both mental and physical. One young man is beaten with Bibles in a particularly disturbing moment.
As a director, Edgerton’s strength is his economy. He doesn’t reach for the florid or the melodramatic, even when opportunity arises. Instead, his approach is quiet and encompassing. At Love in Action, Jared notices the small details, and so do we: All the participants dress in blank white shirts. During a break, Victor slips outside and grabs a smoke, which seems oddly incongruous. The men and the boys attending sessions take quick glances at each other and look away, afraid to lock eyes for more than a second.
Hedges is perhaps the ideal actor to play Jared. His non-showy performance perfectly matches Edgerton’s understated direction. Jared is a young man who never quite opens up, for obvious reasons, and Hedges makes that guarded quality quite affecting.
More than simply a look at the conversion therapy, the film examines the bonds between parents and children. The film doesn’t condemn Jared’s parents; Nancy ultimately emerges as something of a hero, coming to her son’s rescue. The characters are treated with great compassion. Even Marshall isn’t made out to be a villain.
Xavier (Theodore Pellerin, left) and Jared (Lucas Hedges) get close in “Boy Erased.”
Nancy (Nicole Kidman) tries to console her son (Lucas Hedges).