From being a TIFF icon for depicting the struggle with one’s sexual identity, to being raved about as a potential Oscar winner, Boy Erased is a film that encapsulates the realities of gay conversion therapy.
The film is an adaptation of Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir, Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family. Conley is an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Born and raised in North Arkansas into a Baptist family, he was sent to ‘treat’ his sexuality at a conversion therapy program in Tennessee.
While the film’s Ontario debut was in Toronto’s downtown core, a Nov. 16, 2018 release date at the Whitby Landmark Theatres brought Boy Erased to Durham.
Boy Erased reveals truths about gay conversion therapy and depicts how youth struggle with sexuality.
Troye Sivan’s song Revelation, which was written for the film, sets the tone for Boy Erased. The lyrics are perfect puzzle pieces that connect the movie to the profound view into therapies that “pray the gay away”.
“You’re a revelation, won’t you liberate me now. From a holy world, you’re a revolution. I will liberate you now, as the walls come down.”
By depicting the realities of conversion therapies, the film is revolutionary, reminding audiences queer people still have to fight for their lives.
At the beginning of the film, we meet Jared Eamons, an Arkansas teen played by Lucas Hedges. He is the fictional version of Conley.
Eamons was raised by two severely religious parents, Nancy (Nicole Kidman) and Marshall (Russell Crowe). Marshall Eamons is a Baptist minister who also happens to own a Ford dealership.
Like Eamons, Conley was raised by two deeply religious parents. His father, Hershel, is still a Baptist minister, and their relationship is complicated. His mother, Martha, is religious but supportive and involved in his life.
The movie begins with the mother and son driving, their destination is unknown, unless you binged the trailers before seeing the film.
The audience soon finds out Jared Eamons is being brought to Love in Action, a program designed to rehabilitate people who identify as LGBTQ+. Eamons’ parents decide to enrol him in the 12-day “refuge” program after he’s outed as a gay man.
According to GoodTherapy.org, conversion therapy is an umbrella term for a wide approach designed to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Licensed mental health professionals aren’t always a part of the therapy. Facilitators may be religious officials, self-taught advocates, or people who claim conversion therapy worked for them.
A wide range of approaches can be included in conversion therapy: traditional talking therapy, praying, physical therapy, hypnosis, or aversion therapy.
Love in Action, the program where both Conley and Eamons go to be treated, is the largest “ex-gay” therapy organization in America. The organization, which changed its name to Restoration Path in 2012, centred around a philosophy which equates homosexuality with unhappiness, isolation and death.
Director Joel Edgerton plays amateur therapist Victor Sykes; the script makes sure to point out he and the men who run the program have struggled with their own sexuality.
Boy Erased makes audiences watch the disturbing realities conversion therapy attaches to its victims, branding them for life.
Realities portrayed in the film include, but are not limited to, blaming your family members who suffered from addiction, or other ‘sins’ for your homosexuality, yelling at an empty chair that represents your father since you must hate him because you love men.
One of the most humiliating ‘therapy’ practice includes reading your homosexual ‘sins’ to the group and begging God for forgiveness.
Although the film is set in 2004, therapies and places like this are still offered to “fix” LGBTQ+ youth in 2018.
It is important to remember, homosexuality was still a part of Canada’s Criminal Code until 1967.
In June 2015, Ontario became the first province to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ children.
An online petition, asks the federal government to implement a law that bans all conversion therapies nationwide. The petition was created by Devon Hargreaves from Lethbridge, Alta. on Sept. 20, 2018.
Conversion therapies are only banned in the provinces of Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia. While Alberta is working towards a ban, Vancouver became the first Canadian city to ban conversion therapy in 2016.
Boy Erased reveals why the bans are being demanded by government officials. Through Eamons’ story, it is evident the therapies ruin lives and families.
“I love you, but we cannot see a way that you can live under this roof if you’re going to fundamentally go against the grain of our beliefs,” Marshall Eamons tells his son.
The Eamons family is complicated. In the film, there is a lot of focus on the family dynamic, almost like a character study. Possibly the most heart wrenching aspect of the film is the damaged family.
You can tell these are good people, but they’re people who have lost their way and have gotten caught up in their faith.
Kidman perfectly showcases a woman blinded by her faith and beliefs. Yet, after her son calls her frantically from a bathroom stall at Love in Action, she decides he is more important than his sexuality. On the other hand, her husband cannot get past his son’s sexuality.
Boy Erased makes it hard not to sympathize with the entire family. You see both sides of the story: a son who wants his parents to love him for who he is, and parents who cannot see their son through their blind faith.
“I’m gay and I’m your son and neither of those are going to change,” Eamons tells his father.
Whether you’re a parent, friend or acquaintance of someone in the LGBTQ+ community, this is a movie you need to see.