REVIEW: Boy Erased

So… 2018 has escalated since Love, Simon it would seem.

Boy Erased follows the true story of a young homosexual man, birthed to Baptist parents, who is forced into a gay conversion therapy program.

From the memoir of the same name by Garrard Conley and directed and written for the screen by Australian talent, Joel Edgerton, Boy Erased is one of 2018’s most powerful and moving films yet. The film not only succeeds in performances, writing and direction, but from all accounts, Boy Erased manages to be a genius film that works through passion and high intellect, knowing how to specifically tell an impactful story.

Truthfully, I had not originally planned to see Boy Erased; the film struck me in a similar vein to Beautiful Boy, as a picture purely made for Oscar season. And to be honest, for years now, I have been sick of the samey, performance heavy Oscar bait movies and their knack for being so forgettable come the end of the calendar year. Boy Erased came so close – so close – to falling into that category as I was purely planning on not seeing it because it approached me as nothing less but a wannabe Steve McQueen venture. However, one day I found myself to have an empty afternoon. Two hours to spare, and you would not believe how well a movie would fit like a jigsaw piece into your schedule when you have a couple of hours free. So I decided to go see Boy Erased and, believe me, I am kicking myself that I ever doubted this film.

I have been a reasonable fan of Joel Edgerton for a while. His last film and solo debut, The Gift with Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall, was one of the biggest surprises of the year 2015. Atop of that, the man has managed to establish himself as an accomplished and admirable actor as with Boy Erased he seemingly steps up his talents, in my books, even further than they originally sat. Edgerton’s direction of this film was spectacular, subtly highlighting key moments and movements behind his actor’s performances. Edgerton clearly proved himself a director in Boy Erased who cared not only about how his actors presented themselves onscreen but also how their actions so well brought to life the intricateness of the script. Also with his supporting performance as the head “therapist” Victor Sykes, Edgerton really made his despicable and uncomfortable presence felt. There was a certain moment between Edgerton and Nicole Kidman (I won’t spoil it) for which featured Edgerton at his finest in acting, direction and writing all in one frame. Keep an eye out for the one shot, after Kidman and Lucas Hedges drive away from the conversion centre, leaving Edgerton to stand in a specific pose, appearing so telling and visually rich that the character of Sykes featured so beautifully detailed by Edgerton in less than heartbeat. Again: acting – direction – writing – Edgerton mastered all in Boy Erased.

Hedges, coming strong off films such as Manchester by the Sea and Lady Bird, delivered what may be his strongest performance yet. Whereas in his previous films Hedges has visibly been overshadowed by talents like Casey Affleck and Saoirse Ronan, Boy Erased stands as Hedges’ platform to really command the screen. His performance is only propelled by a magnificent Nicole Kidman and applause-worthy Russell Crowe portraying Hedges’ onscreen parents.

To appraise the storytelling and subsequent screenplay behind Boy Erased, the non-linear narrative swam down a surprisingly organic and healthy structure. Unlike Beautiful Boy that felt somewhat messy in most of it’s narrative’s non-linear execution, Boy Erased genuinely worked as a smooth, naturally flowing tale where the story would jump through time at exactly the right moments to coincide with the right atmosphere. Other than the tremendous dialogue performed by the actors, Boy Erased operated most of its best material on tone and consequent mood. Thanks to exceptional cinematography and lighting, Boy Erased would contrast warmly lit, hopeful moments of acceptance between Hedges and Cherry Jones with cold, unnerving and painfully ignorant moments between Hedges and Edgerton. Also, personally I’m not a huge fan of Troye Sivan’s music, but the young performer’s musical contributions to the film really drove home some strong sequences. Not to mention Sivan as an actor in Boy Erased really turning out a solid performance, despite his minimal appearances whilst also, on the topic of musicians as actors; Flea must receive more recognition for his acting chops – “by the way”, he’s more than just a red hot chili pepper.

Boy-Erased (2)
(Focus Features 2018)

When I said Boy Erased first appeared to me as a somewhat Steve McQueen wannabe, I stand by that statement, but instead of it being in distain, I would instead use that statement as more of an appraisal. Boy Erased did get really heavy in parts and for some, it may be a bit too much to handle. The film really worked to oppress a minority much like McQueen films do, in particular with African Americans in 12 Years A Slave. Now that’s not to say Boy Erased is as full-on a film as 12 Years A Slave but it does bare down on the same ideas and feelings of the inability to attain freedom or choice with instead a painful existence of discomfort due to one’s identity.

Towards the beginning of the film, Hedges’ character is seen winding down his car window to allow his hand to flow in the breeze, despite his mother’s annoyance and fear of her son committing such an action. For what was, and is, a harmless action – a plea for freedom – is squashed by the beliefs of others. Jared, the protagonist of Boy Erased, tries to constantly seek the freedom to live his life on his own terms but for the majority of the film, despite fighting back, falls prey to his parent’s and elder’s beliefs, fears and ignorance of life – therefore retracting his arm and reconcealing it within the safe bounds of the car. Jared never truly wants to abandon his parents or the life he has with them (therefore he never, Lady Bird-style, tries jumping out of the car) but he does truly want to escape and encompass his own identity through means of release without totally severing ties. Boy Erased depicts a boy, in fact a class of men and women, who fearfully try to reach out in search for acceptance and freedom but continuously wage a war from within themselves against their established relationships and beliefs.

I do not think Boy Erased is a film that totally goes against Christianity and establishes the wrongs of the Bible, but I do feel the film attempts to surge healthy discussion on the now ancient, but still heavily relevant text, serving to question whether love and belief are the same thing or belong beyond one another; needing to coexist but also find a mid-ground. I do not want to necessarily bring beliefs into this discussion (being that it is just a review and not a full analysis) but I do think Boy Erased is somewhat of a game changer in how one may perceive the rights and wrongs of believing and furtherly placing your faith in something. Boy Erased will have you realising the utmost importance of equality, as the homosexual story is told in the light of a slavery story on African Americans. I honestly believe Boy Erased is an extremely important film and could even have many folks alter their perspectives of true hardship and bravery.

Personally, I felt very moved by this film. I have always been totally for gay rights as I have been with any other movement towards equality as I’ll also even go so far to admit that my religious beliefs have always taken second place after my stronger beliefs on equality in our communities. The special thing about Boy Erased is how a lot of people seemingly forget that when a movie deals with issues as powerful as these ones so fluently and flawlessly, they transcend just being a movie or even a film and instead a piece of retrospective art that unapologetically turns the mirror onto society. Boy Erased is not necessarily the best film of the year (that’s Venom) but is one of the most culturally important that I would definitely insist you seek out.

You can never erase one’s identity as you can equally never erase the importance of art.

Boy Erased is, in fact… LOST ART.

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