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story.lead_photo.caption Xavier (Theodore Pellerin) and Jared (Lucas Hedges) spend a quiet moment together in Joel Edgerton’s non-hysterical family drama Boy Erased.

Gay conversion therapy is a scam that, not unlike Scientology, credit repair and most work-from-home opportunities, is likely perpetuated by cynical grifters preying on the desperate and naive. We might presume people who fall for them are pathetic and unsophisticated. You can be forgiven for believing what you believe about them.

Yet faith is necessary. We are encouraged to have it, to hold on to it, if we can. We are encouraged, as Russell Crowe's character points out late in Joel Edgerton's seriously human Boy Erased, to be humble enough to seek the guidance of those wiser and more experienced than ourselves and to follow their advice. It is not always possible to know the best thing to do for the people we love.

Edgerton's film is based on the memoir of Arkansan Garrard Conley, who in 2004 entered a Memphis program called Love in Action (LIA), which was supposed to cure him of his nascent gayness. In the film, his character is called Jared Eamons. He's played by Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea, Lady Bird) as an earnest, slightly jockish college freshman who is aware of (and disturbed by) his attraction to men but other than a chaste night spent with a boy he finds attractive, hasn't yet acted on those feelings.

Nancy Eamons (Nicole Kidman) reassures her son, Jared (Lucas Hedges), in Joel Edgerton’s family drama Boy Erased, a lightly fictionalized version of Arkansan Garrard Conley’s story.
Nancy Eamons (Nicole Kidman) reassures her son, Jared (Lucas Hedges), in Joel Edgerton’s family drama Boy Erased, a lightly fictionalized version of Arkansan Garrard Conley’s story.

He is, however, victimized by a fellow student, who out of his own self-loathing and guilt calls Jared's parents Marshall (Russell Crowe) and Nancy (Nicole Kidman) to let them know they're raising a homosexual. This precipitates a family crisis that leads Jared to LIA's intake area, where he's forced to give up his phone and the Moleskine notebook ("no journaling," he's officiously told) in which he sketches out stories. He's willing to give himself over to the presumably wiser man who runs this program, Victor Sikes (Edgerton, conscientiously underplaying a role that could have been played otter-sleek and smarmy).

Jared is ready to have this bad part of himself erased.

Of course it doesn't work that way, and no one should be surprised by the way the story plays out. It's a bit like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, though there's an interesting day-camp aspect to the treatment.

Jared and most of the other "patients" leave every day at 5 p.m. He spends the evenings with his mother in a nearby motel. Turns out, right now they're just evaluating him -- it may be that it's best he move into one of the houses on-site and stay for a year. His parents' money could be put to better use saving his soul than sending him to college to read Oscar Wilde and Vladimir Nabokov.

As absurd as gay conversion therapy may seem -- and it is a thoroughly discredited treatment with essentially no standing with mental health professionals -- it's not difficult to see how someone steeped in biblical literalism might see it as a necessary step. Because if homosexuality is an abomination, it has to be choice, right? Because God would not make a being he could not love. Because, as Sykes tells us in his most compelling lecture, people are like dollars -- even if we're wadded up or have pieces torn off, we still retain our value.

If you are raised to believe in certain things, you will likely believe in them unless you find the reality that confronts you irreconcilable with your faith. Then you have a crisis that requires you either to suppress or deny your reality or re-examine your beliefs.

What's best about this movie is not the rather straightforward story, told in a nonlinear way, or the remarkably calibrated performances from everyone involved, but its insistence on the humanity of all of the characters, even those who only appear for a scene or two to drive the action forward or to offer a poignant gaze. I can't think of a better ensemble in a recent film than the impeccable Kidman, Crowe, Hedges and Edgerton; the movie is extraordinarily well-cast, down to musician Flea's menacing sketch of an old convict-come-to-Jesus who helps out around the LIA offices.

We know these people: They are not hicks, they are not even complete and utter charlatans. Most of them are trying to do their best based on the limits of their information and their imagination.

Boy Erased

90 Cast: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Flea, Cherry Jones, Jesse LaTourette, Britton Sear, Theodore Pellerin, Joe Alwyn

Director: Joel Edgerton

Rating: R, for sexual content including an assault, some language and brief drug use

Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes

Jared's family lives in small-town Arkansas -- the film isn't specific about where, but Conley grew up in Cherokee Village and later Mountain Home, and his father sold cars and preached. (His father is now pastor at the Bridge Missionary Baptist Church in Mountain Home.) They are solidly middle-class, with a fine home. They aren't bigots, they aren't hypocrites.

They aren't rubes. They can be forgiven for believing what they believe.

And that's why movies and books and other works of art are important, because that's the way we experience the reality of people who aren't ourselves. How we learn that these other people aren't alien. That we are more alike than different. It's how we discover empathy, how we become emotionally intelligent.

Boy Erased is not about abandoning faith, but about modifying it. It's about crediting the evidence of your own eyes, ears and heart. As the small-town physician (a sparkling Cherry Jones) tells Jared after his father sends him in to have his blood drawn and his testosterone level checked, she knows she's not going to find anything wrong with him. She's not going to be able to tell his parents what they want to hear.

Because Jared is perfectly normal.

MovieStyle on 11/16/2018

Print Headline: FILM REVIEW: Movie based on Arkansan’s book about gay conversion therapy hits the right buttons


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Archived Comments

  • GeneralMac
    November 16, 2018 at 9:56 a.m.

    Most of the "usual suspects" from the left could sure use some conversion therapy.

  • condoleezza
    November 16, 2018 at 11:08 a.m.

    PrivateMac, what do superstitious, nonscientific, discredited conversion techniques for gays have to do with one's political beliefs? You are a broken record.

  • GeneralMac
    November 16, 2018 at 11:36 a.m.

    Which leftist posters are those two gay guys on the bed ?

  • RBear
    November 16, 2018 at 11:43 a.m.

    Fake no clue on this movie and you just troll hatred, even while being an avowed racist. Racists are some of the most disgusting individuals in this country. Homophobes right up there with them.

  • mrcharles
    November 16, 2018 at 12:16 p.m.

    I am shocked , very disturbed and traumatized by the photo they just had to show. What is children saw this and thought what it showed was OK?

    The ancient book that most talking mammals take ala carte, clearly without qualification requires defectively made copies of the creation creator to Not wear two different fabrics within or around the article of clothing they wear.

    I believe this movie may, due to this photo, cause America to be attacked by giants, resulting from decedents of Seth be barred by gop types from using contraception in their coitus that the bible allows but you have to marry them when you rape them.

    We gather at Wal Mart to protest 2 or more fabrics in our clothing to clothe our nakedness now that we see ourself naked , and it is cold too.

    GM, your fascination over this issue seems unnatural. I recommend you buy all cotton clothing.

    And david loved jonathan.

  • GeneralMac
    November 17, 2018 at 10:12 a.m.

    If only those two had shown up at the Arkansas State Democrat Convention.

  • bradbailey
    December 18, 2018 at 11:03 p.m.

    Reparation therapy is a cruel practice that negatively impacts the patient's self-esteem. Some are driven to suicide because their therapists tell them they aren't working hard enough to become heterosexual. It is a pseudo-science, like phrenology and intelligent design, foisted upon both adults and kids.

    Adults with "unwanted same-sex attractions" have every right to avail themselves of these dangerous therapies. But to force innocent kids into these programs by misinformed parents can scar these kids for the rest of their lives. It is a dangerous therapy with no peer-reviewed support from mainstream psychological, psychiatric, or medical groups.

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    December 18, 2018 at 11:30 p.m.

    Just more to cover what is actually being done to your sons.
    More 10% to cover the 90%
    ( #FiveoutofSix )