‘Boy Erased’ shows the dark side of hurting to help
When “Boy Erased” premiered at the Savannah Film Festival, the Lucas Theater for the Arts was packed to capacity. Playing at 9:30 p.m. that Friday, audiences had been anticipating the film all week. “Boy Erased” did not disappoint.
The film follows the experiences of Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges), an 18-year-old college freshman, as he attends gay conversion therapy. Hedges, who had already received an Academy Award nomination for “Manchester by the Sea” in 2016, pushes what we thought we knew of him. As Jared, he gives an outstanding performance, blending confusion, anger, and vulnerability so seamlessly he presents us with a nearly transparent character.
Jared Eamons was born and raised in a Christian family. His father, Marshall Eamons (Russell Crowe), is a Baptist pastor, and his mother Nancy Eamons (Nicole Kidman) is the typical smiling pastor’s wife. Together they present us with the southern stereotype so many of us have grown up with. Jared is different though, he isn’t what his parents think he is. Before he leaves for college he breaks up with his high school girlfriend and once there, he’s forced to confront feelings he’s spent his whole life not allowing himself to feel. It’s only after a trauma he sustains at the hands of another man do his parents find out, and Jared is forced to truly admit to himself what he is.
“In your heart, do you want to change?” His father asks. Jared sits in silence for a moment, looking at the faces of his parents and pastors, before he finally replies: “Yes. Yes, I want to change.”
This sets up the narrative for the rest of the film. Jared is perhaps the most silent character in a movie that revolves around his life. It was his parents, predominately his father, that wanted him to go to conversion therapy. Once there, he’s asked by Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton), the head counselor at the clinic, to pin the sins on the rest of his family to explain why he is the way that he is. Other sins include alcoholism, domestic violence, mental illness, drug abuse, gang affiliation, same-sex attraction/homosexuality and pornography, among others. Jared and the other members of his group are essentially asked to put their family into the same boxes that they’ve been put into their whole life as if a person can so easily be defined by one thing.
For Jared, this is hard. He can’t see his family through those eyes because he doesn’t blame them for who he is. Sykes wants his patients to overcome their sins by channeling their anger. The hard part is, for all of these men, they aren’t angry; they’re confused, they’re broken, they’re hurt. At one point, Jared asks a friend if they know of Job from the Bible. Jared says, “I imagine I’m him sometimes, that God and the devil are having a bet over me.”
It’s this tug of war that he feels most strongly. Jared is being pushed and pulled in the tide of what everyone else wants him to be versus what he needs himself to be, and when he finally explodes, the audience applauded. “Why do I have to be angry?” Jared asks. It’s the question we’ve been asking the whole movie, what Jared’s been wondering this whole time and the most honest he’s been with himself so far. “I’m starting to wonder if it’s really going to change me,” he finally confesses.
In the end, there’s a line his father delivers about how what Jared faces is similar to the trials that Jesus faced in the book of Matthew. He says that the devil will tempt you over and over again, but you just have to keep refusing. The only problem is, it might not be the devil tempting Jared after all, but rather the people that have been around him all along.